New York

George Trakas

Graduate Center Mall, CUNY

One of the fascinating exhibition spaces in the city is the midavenue thoroughfare connecting 42nd and 43rd streets, running beneath the refurbished office building that houses the City University’s doctoral programs. It is a cold place of grained flagstone, striated concrete, and chunky fundamentalist architecture. Its exhibition program has been remarkably sympathetic to contemporary art, and has served a valuable public function by exposing various art options to a random, largely office-working public. No exhibition, Iodate, in my view was as successful as the installation of George Trakas’s work. He is a sculptor whose impressive risks begin to approach the raw scale provided by the setting.

In 1971, his work along with other Theodoren recipients was shown at the Guggenheim. Still earlier, he was introduced when 112 Greene Street first opened. His piece, in a brutalist Constructivist way derived from Mark di Suvero; negotiated the grim caverns of a Soho basement straight through the floor to the main, grimy exhibition space. Scale and ambitiousness remain central to Trakas’s concerns, though now they are tempered by often delicate and stray notes.

Trakas is a wholly synthetic sculptor—as a truism, so is every artist—but Trakas appears to construe synthesis to mean the visible maintenance of conscious oppositions. Within sculpture, his sense of paradox may be his most mannerist strain (and why I maintain reservations despite my enthusiasm). What Trakas opposes is the most manifestly pictorial against the most explicitly sculptural. Tabernaclelike structures are formed of metal girders and rough wooden beams. The walls are often fragile panes of glass. These transparent, glistening elements are so fixed as to support on their thin edges the massive weights of metal beams and telephonepolel ike shafts somewhat rigidly fixed in place by gravitational tug, knottings and settings which occasionally suggest the delineation of “eaves.” Thus, the support is in the “wrong” place—instead of being ground-born, the supports are formed of what can be viewed as the “spines” of these boothlike structures. What is unexpectedly tested—although Christopher Wilmarth, Larry Bell, and Richard Serra are surely models—is the structural integrity of elements associated with crisp fragility. It sounds intellectually facile (though physically rough) but it works, particularly since it is underscored by organic-versus-inorganic clues (e.g., a glass wall against the literal section of a tree or the nature-made versus the industrially fabricated).

Trakas’s most explicitly pictorial contrast between form and surface is revealed in the use of mirroring elements that duplicate, say, the shape of rocks. This contrast epitomizes his pictorial-sculptural syntax as it manifests issues of color, reflectivity, transparency, as opposed to inertness, opacity and solidity. These elements occupy CUNY’s severe mall as if by a ritual city, houses whose functions within the community remain unclear, but which in their structural and textural elements suggest a forgotten utility (the one with the polished brass captain’s bell suggests a firehouse, or grange or chapel) . . . you see what I mean.

Robert Pincus-Witten