San Francisco

James Prestini

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Geometrically schematized forms derived from variously combining segments of H-beam, I-beam, cylindrical pipe and other foundry-standardized structural steel elements were the subject of an exhibition of recent sculptures by James Prestini organized by the San Francisco Museum of Art. The almost doctrinaire Bauhaus viewpoint which Prestini acquired in his long affiliation, first as a student and later as an instructor, with the Chicago Institute of Design in the 1940s, persists in his current work and in his expressed artistic platform. Prestini plates his basic steel elements with nickel or chromium, highly polished to achieve a reflective surface which has startling functions in the “echo-chamber-of-reflections” generated within his combinations and nestings of cylindrical forms.

It is in the asymmetrical groupings of cylindrical forms, as well as of planar slabs with large circular perforations that Prestini’s work is at its best, achieving at times classical elegance. Sometimes effective in their severe simplicity are some variations on a motif consisting of a circular element surmounting either a simple vertical, a cross shape, or a long-stemmed, short-pronged tuning-fork configuration, in ways often reminiscent of Egyptian Ankh crosses and solar-disc icons.

However, the forms which Prestini derives from various superimpositions and orientational alternation-sequences of H-beam and I-beam segments are less successful. In these he tends to prefer obvious bisymmetrical distributions around a central vertical axis, and the resulting chunky-choppy ladder structures, heavy and squat, while occasionally comic in overtones of buffoon animism, are more usually only prosaically simplistic and obvious schematizations of the elements involved, contrasting sharply in overall effect with the lyrical accents and the lofty austerities of the circle-based forms.

Palmer D. French