New York

John Okulick

Nancy Hoffman Gallery

John Okulick is part of what appears to be a definite direction within sculpture toward producing objects which are scarcely deeper than an haut relief. Okulick’s boxes occupy a shallow, barely three-dimensional space and are a mannerist actualization of a two-dimensional illusion—a perspective drawing of a three-dimensional box receding in space on the vertical wall. He aligns small bevelled edged wooden planks along perspective lines to enhance the illusion. A photograph reverses the process, causing them to revert to the two-dimensional space from which they were derived.

Originally Okulick’s boxes were closed, more rectangular containers bearing traditional packing materials such as excelsior and straw or small kindling sticks, substances normally found arranged in bundles. In recent work the outer perimeter of the box has become attenuated. Instead of appearing to be part of the viewer’s immediate space, as the earlier ones were, they seem to project into deep space and become more exaggerated trapezoids or rhomboids. Now the boxes are opened—exploded. The sticks are laid in lines like a log jam or else bound upright by the sides of the box. The boxes are now partially about the illusion that they can barely contain the substances that seem perilously close to spilling out. Binding the substances in space, whether with heavy cord or wire mesh, becomes a principle concern of the work.

Resembling compost heaps and cages for small animals, the boxes verge on being symbols for capture and imprisonment. Okulick suggests through his choice of titles that the work is about a spiritual state or an incantation, in which natural substances are placed in a defined situation to provoke a response from some deity or natural force. But the literalness of his image and its inescapable relationship to packaging deprives Okulick of some of his metaphoric intent, and in the end one is left only to marvel at his craftsmanship.

––Ann-Sargent Wooster