San Francisco

William King

Dintenfass Gallery

In its most engaging exhibition of the season, the San Francisco Museum of Art, leading off the itinerary of a traveling show organized by the Dintenfass Gallery of New York, presented a new series of 14 sculptural constructions by William King. In these works King turns radically away from his former style—the fragile, attenuated figures clearly embodying a classical European heritage transmitted through Giacometti, which King first realized in traditional bronze casting and later translated into amalgams of cloth, polymers and other contemporary “soft” sculptural media—to a fresh and invigorating idiom, at once native and novel, in which flat shapes, contour-sawed with a metal-cutting power-tool from plane slabs of 3/8 inch aluminum plate, are assembled by slit morticing into life-size and larger-than-life-size stylized “figure constructs” of highly sophisticated simplicity. King’s total abandonment of the molded and modeled form and adoption of the schematically assembled construct for his new work suggest that he has rejected all vestiges of classical sculpture in favor of a Constructivist esthetic rationale. Indeed, these works reveal a rigorously disciplined concern with reductive economy not only in their intensive condensation of form and expression, but likewise in structural method, each juncture of two pieces of plate, for example, involving only one slit, cut transversely into the silhouette edge of one of the pieces for clamping around, and intersecting it with, the other.

King never bends the plate or modulates its surfaces; hence, interfitting the parts at angles determined over their entirety by these slits, and spurning the freedom of angular articulation that could be facilitated with adaptive tenons or flaps, is clearly a deliberately adopted “rule of method” for this work—a conscious austerity of procedural schematization integral to the visible structure, and hence to the esthetic, of these sculptures. Thus uniquely devised, these constructs might perhaps best be described as “3-dimensional silhouette mannequins” since the “reading-orientations” of the individual sections defining in cartoon profile the head, torso,arms and legs, respectively, of a given figure, intersect, usually at right angles, or near-right angles, and in a variety of planes over the entire figure, in such a manner as never to compose a figure-silhouette, in totality from any one viewpoint.

Consequently, while some of the more forthrightly anecdotal constructions offer at least one “viewing-orientation” from which the total information for comprehending gestural content is at least inferable, others, presenting intriguing organizations of interspersed edges and section-profiles in any one plane, must nonetheless be viewed from more than one location for a complete “reading” of their gestural or anecdotal content. Not the least startling of effects directly attributable to this feature are the sudden transitions and abrupt contrasts of spatial syntax presented to the viewer walking around these constructions, which, incidentally, in scale and formal disposition were clearly conceived as outdoor pieces.

King’s method not only presents one solution to the problem of making in-the-round sculptural constructs exclusively with flat planilinear elements, but parodies, in doing so, the historic Lysippian “revolving axis” formula, and creates a unique light/space esthetic fusing sculptural and quasi-graphic ingredients (the silhouette shapes). The 14 constructions currently on tour are King’s first works in a new and challenging direction; in terms of gestural content and expressive power they exhibit an extreme range from urbane, frivolous badinages which only structural integrity and formal resourcefulness rescue from the category of conversation-piece garden sculpture, to solemnly playful, whimsical monoliths, eloquent and almost awesome in their non-sentimental and quintessential monumentalization of the intimate and pedestrian.

Palmer D. French