New York

Terry Fugate-Wilcox

James Yu Gallery

Terry Fugate-Wilcox makes sculpture that consists of packaging scientific—chiefly mineralogical—fact. His show was in three parts: works changed by the environment—by temperature, humidity, etc.; works in which diffusion is taking place, as in the sculpture made out of strips of aluminum and carbon bolted together, where the proximity of the two metals assures that electron migration between them is taking place—with consequences that will be clearly apparent to the naked eye in about 3,000 years; and works which are being eaten away by the atmosphere, which are referred to as “burning” pieces. An example of this last group is Slow-burn Rock which is a 700 lb. lump of rock that contains a lot of iron. Gradually, rusting will turn it a brighter and brighter orange, and, in about the same length of time as is it will take the piece I just mentioned to visually diffuse, the iron-bearing rock will completely disappear through oxidation. 

Those pieces which are affected by temperature and humidity in a way that produces an immediately noticeable result—like the rope sculpture, in which seven types of rope react in seven different ways (of expansion and contraction) to atmospheric change—connect to kineticism in a manner that’s instructive about all of Fugate-Wilcox’s work. Kineticism, or that aspect of it represented by an artist such as—for example—Pol Bury, is engaged in an evocation of sequence which is depictional but not speculative, which distinguishes this sort of kineticism from the concern for temporal procedure elicited in the work of some Conceptual artists, where sequence is contextualized by its relationship to a specific set of propositions. If Fugate-Wilcox, like Bury, produces objects that entertain but don’t posit arguments—as is, I think, the case—then it should be said that his work gains a certain notoriety from its use of conventions—a preoccupation with morphology and the notion of the Readymade—which are elsewhere characteristic of art that’s investigative, logically initiated, and committed to a position opposed to ornamentalism of any sort. 

Some of Fugate-Wilcox’s pieces are given dates like 4000 A.D., which doesn’t represent the end of a process, but only the end of his “authorship” of it. I find this hard to take. It’s a use of the notion of the Readymade that—without irony—renders it banal. The vocabulary of recent American sculpture, which has concentrated on materiality in order to subvert the humanistic myth that would have it that sculpture is necessarily discontinuous with real space, appears in Fugate-Wilcox’s work only as a denotation of the sculpture’s status as a precious object. 

What we have here, I think, is a recent manifestation of a familiar situation. In, for example, a series of letters written in the ’30s (translated and published in the New Left Review, September–October, 1973) Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin consider the phenomenon whereby commodity value comes to substitute for the “aura” of the work of art. Through retaining an appearance historically associated with esthetic value, it’s possible to produce things which, though they don’t provide contexts for unprecedented convergences of critical speculation, nonetheless delight connoisseurs by virtue of their superficial connection to that which is generally regarded as significant. The lack of critical focus in Fugate-Wilcox’s sculpture, its mute presentation of material inevitability, forces one to consider its implications in this broader, socioeconomic sense. I’m not saying that what happens to materials in the course of their exposure to one another, and to atmosphere, etc., isn’t interesting in itself. I am saying, though, that it’s only peripherally interesting as art. And that Fugate-Wilcox’s sculpture, which in confirmation of its identity as a discrete package is always either smaller than human scale or articulated according to the golden mean, gains currency—to make a pun—from its essentially trivial resemblance to other art, on which, however, it can make no comment. Which is to say that Fugate-Wilcox’s sculpture gains one’s attention by suggesting that to which it is in practice indifferent. 

Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe