New York

Kenneth Snelson

Waterside Plaza

Kenneth Snelson’s energetic tensegrity structure sculptures on the Waterside Plaza rock slightly with the wind off the East River. Although the pipe and cable assemblies are dwarfed by the hatchetlike apartment buildings (by Davis, Brody and Associates) that tower above them, it’s clear that it might have been the other way around. I mean that, as Buckminster Fuller has demonstrated, Snelson’s structural method can generate architecture, and, given the site, that is what I think about in their presence. Snelson’s work is rationalized down to the last bone, with an inevitability like botanical structure. He uses this to make occasional cosmic allusions. For example, his demonstratively systemic towers (not shown here) have a view inside and up that recalls the intricate interiors of Guarini’s late Baroque church domes.

Northwood III, in which diagonal pipes ramify off a cubic central core, is almost sedate. Four Module Piece: Form ll looks dropped. It’s such a ground hugger that it only incidentally invokes a drama of inward collapse. Free Ride Home, the largest of the five works Snelson built on the plaza, is more complex, even angstful. The pipes and cables here are coextensive not only as components of a structure, but as a flow of thick and thin. This is in contrast to a work like Key City, where a lot of wire is used to stage manage the horizontal levitation of one long and four short pipes within quadrangles of standing pipes. In Free Ride, a jumble of pipes clutches height diagonally to imply a toppling, or better, a lofting of the configuration from the pyramid within which Snelson has marshaled it. At the same time, a massive pipe leans out so as to undercut the lunge. This pipe also anchors the configuration like rigging depending from a mast. It’s a metaphorical support, just as the concrete plaza is the real support. The problem is apparently to maintain the multiplicative generation in Snelson’s work as a source of sculptural energy and formal complexity, and keep it from merely delineating staid volumes.

Alan Moore