New York

Isaac Witkin

Robert Elkon Gallery

Isaac Witkin showed six new steel sculptures in a space rented downtown by the Robert Elkon Gallery. The problem for Witkin, and formalist sculpture generally, is finding a way to get away from Anthony Caro’s dominating influence. Witkin seems to have taken a clue from Frank Stella’s newer work by trying to solve the problem in terms of increasing complication. Papageno uses forms which are literally out of Stella’s recent work. The work is a conglomeration of sharp triangular and rhomboid planes, with interior similar shapes cut out. These planes even have a 3” or 4” perpendicular lip like that of a stretcher bar in relation to a stretched canvas. The only element not suggestive of Stella is a circular S-shape, which seems to be there as an added complication (to consider the S as an initial seems going a bit far). The general effect of Papageno is of a three-dimensional steel version of recent Stella, even more bizarre than the prototypes. It is, of course, possible that a reference to Stella is irrelevant to Witkin’s intentions, however, Papageno seems so close to Stella as to serve as a kind of metaphor for the direction Witkin is taking in the work of this show.

Some of the sculptures, such as Papageno, Kozazaan, and Dingaan, consist of generally regular shapes that seem to follow some sort of usual formalist ordering concepts. There is a sense that the elements, external shapes and internal cutout shapes, “go together” in a way that is not particularly surprising. However Chickasaw and Sabras are combinations of highly irregular shapes welded together forming a chaotic jumble. Chickasaw consists mostly of circular steel bands with sawtooth edges of varying sizes and a large steel spring. Sabras contains regular straight edges and curves with apparently torn-edge shapes, and a kind of gestural relief drawing on the steel surfaces.

Witkin has, to some degree, gotten away from Caro and gotten his work up off the floor. The works start on the floor, and more or less ramble upward. The irregularity and complicatedness, by which Witkin apparently makes his escape, offers some indication that sculpture can get away from Caro without necessarily getting away from formalism. The problem here seems to be that this solution meets Seymour Lipton, and ’50s Abstract Expressionist sculpture in general, on the other side, which doesn’t seem a bright prospect.

Bruce Boice