New York

Isaac Witkin

Robert Elkon Gallery

Isaac Witkin, on the basis of his recent exhibition at the Robert Elkon Gallery, seems to have matured to the point where he is a very considerable sculptor, if an uneven one. A large, untitled brown sculpture in the exhibition seemed original and moving despite its superficial similarity to David Smith and Anthony Caro. Its similarity, as well as its originality, had something to do with Witkin’s use of I-beams, a material which has been used in great sculpture by both Smith and Caro. Witkin is one of the few artists I can think of who has turned a medium with so many built-in associations into something individual and moving.

Both Smith and Caro tended to use rectangular sections of I-beams, Smith piling them into vaguely humanoid shapes, Caro propping and leaning them to evoke a series of almost dance-like relationships. Witkin has cut diagonally through the beams so that their upper and lower surfaces are not directly above and below each other. In this sculpture, Witkin has used them to open up the sculpture diagonally from the floor and has articulated the movement by using the upper surfaces of the beams to establish a series of horizontal levels throughout the sculpture. The piece in question seizes the floor as one of these levels at one end with a flat, right-angled sheet of steel and rises through a series of levels to a curving, staff-like, vertical prop which echoes, but does not repeat the floor shape. In so doing it achieves a kind of erectness without succumbing to the merely vertical. Its height seems achieved rather than imposed. This kind of construction seems to have been used laterally, rather than vertically, in the other successful sculpture in the exhibition, Congo, which sprawls, through a series of vertical vanes which open into the sculpture. A third piece, Summertime, seems somewhat less successful, perhaps because the flat, geometric planes it contains seem to be held aloft by the rest of the sculpture.

This tendency of a part of the sculpture to read as a pedestal or support seemed to compromise most of the other pieces in the exhibition, many of which looked like elegant, decorated cutouts. The largest piece, Sarabande, was something else again, although no more successful. Despite its size and apparent openness, it seemed repetitive and closed off. Compared with the real, and I think major, quality of the brown piece and Congo, it seemed empty and rather academic.

Terry Fenton