New York

Ronald Bladen

Fischbach Gallery

Ronald Bladen occupies a sculptural position that is exactly opposite to that of Louise Nevelson. His work is holistic, fully threedimensional, and clean of surface. But the unbroken black skins of his pieces hide an Expressionist heart that his resolutely Minimal stance rarely permits us to see. His recent show of plywood prototypes and drawings, however, exposed this interior world in a small model for Coltrane, 1969, which bristled with aggressive nails and splinters of roughly cut plywood. Looking for all the world like a Piranesi prison, it is a maze of engineering complexity so dense it seems overbuilt. It serves to remind us that the artist’s roots are in Abstract Expressionism and post-Abstract Expressionism; he exhibited as a painter until 1965. Even today Bladen’s ideas for his sculptures seem to be closely related to painting configurations. His maze of 1970, for instance, was a major sculpture which has yet to receive proper critical attention, but seeing its drawing in this show confirmed my original impression of its similarity to Frank Stella’s Marriage of Reason and Squalor of 1959. Some of the other models reminded me of paintings by Franz Kline and of the mid-’60s canvases of Al Held. But, despite this, Bladen’s work is never pictorial. Its scale, the space it defines, the architectural references it makes, and its monumentality are on a sculptural plane despite the miniature level of an exhibition of models.

––April Kingsley