New York

Jim Huntington

Max Hutchinson Gallery

Jim Huntington may be veering into the territory of difficult sculpture, to judge by his show at Max Hutchinson. The problem with most of the pieces in this show is that they depend too much and too obviously on attachment to the wall and floor. These pieces involve rectangular sheets of colored masonite that are kept warped into arcs by having their edges abutted to pieces of lumber tacked to the wall and/or floor of the gallery. At least one of the wall/floor pieces also uses notched timbers to help keep the masonite bent, and that looks like a toughening element at first. But used in conjunction with the wall and floor fixtures, the notched timbers (which look otherwise like the least rhetorical way of warping the masonite) introduce an ambiguity into the pieces which undercut them. The ambiguity is in whether the masonite panels are really under stress or whether they have been permanently warped and would just keep their shapes if released.

This is the kind of work that can’t really get along with that kind of ambiguity. One can’t just introduce into it elements which look good or which look like they could hold a piece together if the rest of the components were removed; confusion is usually what results. The extraneous elements in Huntington’s pieces detract from the pleasing feeling one can get from work constructed “on the site” as it were. I really don’t mean to sound flippant, but I think most of Huntington’s pieces would be improved if they were applied to the intersection of the wall and ceiling instead of the wall and floor. In their present situation they seem to want to deny gravity as a factor in determining their form, or at least to replace gravity with the force developed by warping the masonite panels, in other words, to make the determinant force internal to the sculpture itself. There is only one piece in the show that does this at all successfully and that is the only freestanding one. In this piece the lateral forces are felt to be so important that they cancel considerations of gravity, and even the weight of the materials does not seem to count for much. In the wall and floor pieces, the warping of the masonite panels just doesn’t look important enough to make nailing things to the wall and floor seem anything but a cheat, a solution without a problem asking for it. If Huntington is indeed out to make a kind of nonillusionistic sculpture which does not depend upon gravity directly to determine its meaning, he has a way to go yet; but the freestanding piece here looks like a good start. It is almost at the level of Gary Kuehn’s best sculpture.

The question that the New Realism should be dealing with and generally does not is: what is real about representations? As Johns’ example demonstrated, the way to an answer seems to be to find subject matter that will allude equally to some literal fact about the world and about painting. The trouble with New Realist painting generally seems to be that it is not even vestigially modernist. The idea of painting from photographs in order to represent only what is already a representation didn’t have much mileage in it, and anyway there was something evasive about it.

Kenneth Baker