New York

Alice Adams

55 Mercer Gallery

Alice Adams’s works look like bare sections of a plaster wall’s internal structure, made as they are from strips of lath and supporting beams. The idea is to make sculpture by representing, recreating excerpts from preexisting (but by now somewhat outmoded) tectonic systems. To my mind, art that usurps the technics of architecture also references its circumstances; the art can relay something about the way buildings are conceived, built, used, and destroyed. Adams’s work doesn’t, or, at least she takes the clear high road. Her pieces are clean and insular, woodwork in the nude, the product of a carpenter’s praxis geared up to make sculptural sense.

Vault is a modular floor piece. The module is a quadripartite rib-vault, resting on the floor at the spring point of its arches, and joined at these points of contact with the ground by two half-vaults. This form has a venerable lineage in masonry architecture as an elegant unit of spatial subdivision. Unlike Adams’s earlier work, Vault doesn’t read clearly as an architectural excerpt. Not even a Victorian folly would contain such a bizarre configuration. Vault needs an act of faith grounded in reductive sculpture (particularly Tony Smith’s work) to explain it.

Vault is freestanding, whereas many of Adams’s vertical corner pieces have to be nailed to the floor before they’ll stand up. The internal structure of beams which supports the lath is also less complicated here than in the earlier works. These are sculptural virtues, sure, but the new clarity blurs the intriguing distinction between support (which, after all, is invisible in a plastered wall) and the skinned, plasterless exterior. Adams wrote in a group show catalogue last year: “I like the eloquence of these old loft spaces with their pitted walls and the sense of the wood lath murmuring underneath.” In Vault, this idea of a “murmur,” which her work reveals and amplifies, has again been translated into sculptural dialect. The irregularly milled and precisely affixed lath is basically a delicate enrichment of the sober curves of a reductive module.

Alan Moore