New York

Barbara Zucker

112 Greene Street

For several years Barbara Zucker has used the Hachi Ho, or “Eight Treasures,” benevolent symbols used to decorate Chinese ceramics, as a source for some of her sculpture. Although they have a consistent geometric/organic formal vocabulary, each time she uses one of them it’s manifestly different from earlier usages. One wouldn’t know the same source is involved. In her previous show she took the “Dragon Pearl,” a disc entwined with a line, produced it as a hand-sized module of pale green hydrocal and cheesecloth, and distributed 136 of these over a wall. Their repetitiveness was an environmental equivalent of the way they occurred as a two-dimensional decorative pattern. In this show, altering both the scale and design of the original, she executed the “Two Books,” another of the “Eight Treasures.” Without prior knowledge, the derivation of these sculptures would never be identified. They are two large, shallow, inverted boxes placed on the wall in a staggered formation with their edges parallel. One is covered with silvery gray celastic and the other is a flocked tan. The flocking is not dense enough to feel its fuzziness, with your eyes, nor do you itch to rub your fingers on the surface. In a nice balance between the organic and the geometric, both rectangles possess squiggly tails.

Almost nonchalantly scattered on the wall, floor and ceiling of the gallery were a number of small sculptures in the shape of phalluses or spermatozoa. Although Zucker has used phallic imagery before, these pieces were derived from Ju-i, a Chinese wand given as a gift on ceremonial occasions. Crafted from precious metals, aromatic woods and semiprecious stones, these wands were varyingly abstracted from the convoluted contours and growth patterns of a specific type of wood mushroom. All contrast some form of head with a linear “tail.” Zucker’s sculptures, like the original wands, exist in different states. Some forms are padded and bulbous, swathed in celastic pleats. Others are spare and elegant. One had a mirrorlike head with a fat, folded ribbon of a tail. In a clever bit of illusion, Zucker attached a section of pipe to the ceiling. The top half was painted white to make it look as if it was a ceiling fixture, and the lower part, ending in a head shaped like a telephone receiver, was intriguingly covered with black flocking.

Zucker is an extremely perverse artist who undertakes the construction of sculptures based on obscure source materials. She is willing to divulge her sources privately, but does not feel they are sufficiently important to issue public statements. The average viewer is confronted with a number of diverse, seemingly unrelated forms. Like picking vegetables in a supermarket, one is forced to say, “Well, I like this one and I don’t like that one.” I find myself wishing that she would abandon her esoteric references and concentrate her two strengths—a grasp of organic forms and an ability to handle line three-dimensionally—in the service of a more independent sculpture.

––Ann-Sargent Wooster