New York

Louisa Chase

Louisa Chase arranges painted sticks and plaster balls on round pieces of colored felt on the floor. Gallery administrator and critic Irving Sandler remarked to a crowd of visitors that Cars and Triangles looked like a model railroad. Perhaps he had Stuart Davis in the back of his mind, because Cars and Triangles, like much of that Cubist’s work, is an active and ingenious abstract composition bounded by a metaphor. These works look like games, but it’s not any game you can play. It’s more like toys left out on the floor. Chase neither infers systemic preconditions for the existence of her pieces (as did Bochner for his floor pieces), nor a possible use, as do works that mark out a space as a ritual ground. Instead Chase emphasizes the pictorial identity of the sticks and balls in her insular works as figures within a field of color. The composition is rigorous, based as it is on Neo-Plasticism. Yet the things aren’t pinned down, so their placement on the felt is contingent on not being kicked or stepped on. These pictorial arrays, subject to the exigencies of sculpture, lie along a peculiar continuum between tondo, that most structurally demanding of traditional pictorial formats, and the idea of a puddle.

A group of painted plaster spheres and half-spheres cluster at one end of the blue felt oval in Sticks and Stones No. 2. The rest of the spheres in the array have been arrested in their migration to the cluster by a rectilinear pattern of sticks. Chase gives the spheres a kind of motility through composition by analogy to probability models: a Science Fair ping-pong ball demonstration of probability, or pool balls on a table. Hoops and Balls and the Sun Rising, a black-and-white arrangement that contains no balls, is made up of canvas scraps dipped in plaster and painted, some bent into arches. It’s apparently the pictorial blague, or demonstration piece, that the many drawings Chase showed, in which a grid of paper strips with arches disrupts penciled geometrical figures, were leading up to. Cars and Triangles realizes the tiny-town architectural implications of the forms in the blague through a metaphor for landscape. In this drably colored piece, rods and tiny cubes with wheels navigate through and around triangular arches raised in the strip grid. The rods change in their role as pull toys: one breaks negotiating a hill, another turns back in a U-shape in an apparent effort to become a static figure. The metaphor permits Chase to explore permutations of the movable motif, since the elements not only resemble toys, but are contexted as toys. Such permutations don’t happen in the floor pieces on felt because they are so insular and only fitfully infused with sculptural ambiguity.

Alan Moore