New York

William Wiley

Allan Frumkin Gallery

William T. Wiley makes funky paintings, sculptures, and graphics. In his recent show I was much more taken by the sculptures than by the rest. The paintings sometimes look labored, which conflicts with the rather delightful kind of raunchiness that this art is generally about. Maybe it is also that the two-dimensional works look too pointless and disposable, whereas anything identifiable as sculpture, no matter how ramshackle, tends to evidence at least the most rudimentary act of artistic will. By comparison, the funky portrait paintings of Peter Saul look perfectly self-sufficient, even if in a mock-academic way. It is significant that in the case of one work which is both two- and three-dimensional, This is Your Life, 1972—a hanging watercolor drawing connected to a wooden frame with woven lead cross-pieces, on the floor—it is the sculpture part that is more engaging, even though it is so (deliberately and restfully) dumb.

The best sculptures, in turn, tend to be those which by the sparest use of common materials take on an ironic—but perfectly valid—elegance. Big Bob’s Freekart, 1972, is a good example: a homemade (model? image? toy? fetish?) bow lying laterally on the floor, cocked with an arrow. Along the piece that holds the bow tense there is an indulgence in graffiti and the tasteful (!) attachment of a few do-dads; note that this confines ornament to the less purely functional members, as in Greek architecture. Quite as thoughtful is the way the arrow is propped up a bit on an attachment to the crossbeam, just as the forward end of the work as a whole is propped up on a hunk of log. Obviously we are being taken for a ride when we subject such a construction to formal analysis, but the point is that (a) it can sustain it, and (b) it is funny.

Some of the sculptures have an academic Surrealism. Off the Receiver, 1972, a construction with rusted bedspring and telephone receiver, looks half serious and poetic and half like a take-off on some museum-embalmed piece of radical art history; it would be better without a small object carrying astrological motifs, but then the note of intellectual adolescence may be indispensable to the work’s ambivalent mode. The large, delicate construction Tubea the Devil, 1972, with oversized pro-/anti-/pseudo-/quasi-Pop Gillette razorblade package, has a Zen-like simplicity and charm, in addition to whatever qualities it may have as a sculptural joke. Column of Advice for a Friend, 1973, is even less qualifiable in its engaging combination of delicacy and tact with funky primitivism. Wiley’s taste for clean lumber is probably significant; it tends to tip the freak grimness of some of the pictures toward more positive values, supplying a kind of basso continuo of cheerful feeling.

Joseph Masheck