New York

Richard Fleischner

Hammarskjold Plaza Sculpture Garden

Sod Construction’s tightly disciplined space at Hammarskjold Plaza gave little ground to anyone not willing to move in and on it. Richard Fleischner’s 95-foot platform began a few inches off the ground at its west end and rose, assisted by a drop in the plaza level, to 9' 6" at its east end. Five feet wide and sodded on top of a four-inch deep soil bed, the structure stood like an aircraft launcher or diving board, fairly remote from the recessed office building with which it shared the northwest corner of the plaza.

Viewed up its tilt from the low end, the strip of sod stuck out like a green thumb against the East River miasma a few blocks away. Seen on ground level from any other angle, the maze of pine supports took precedence. 4 x 4s every five feet provided the basic supporting posts. Longitudinal runners and transverse ties linking parallel posts were laid out on the ground surface, and diagonal struts provided reinforcing support. Ducking under the struts, I walked along until the sloping roof made further progress impossible. The crossbars and posts had entrapped me.

But walking up the ramp transforms the roof into a platform, prisoner into potential conqueror. Halfway up the sod, however, the platform shook inauspiciously, despite its steel reinforcing, under my footsteps. In going any higher I’d be closing off the option of blandly jumping off the construction should all else fail. Though the platform’s end lacked a Minotaur, a piece of laboratory cheese, a swimming pool, or a breathtaking view of New York, I took my ego in my hands, made the ascent, then retreated posthaste.

Mazes—from experimental lab to Robert Morris’ Labyrinth, 1974—generally compel spatial involvement. Once you’re in, fear, boredom, hunger, or intellectual curiosity teach the way out. Fleischner’s mazes are known for short-circuiting such pressure: the maze-traveller has the option of moving across rather than with the maze pattern, to savor environment without adrenal sauce. His Sod Maze at the 1974 Monumenta exhibition in Newport, Rhode Island, led the visitor through low winding hummocks of sod in the garden of Château-sur-Mer; his Bluff, 1972, in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, was grown out of soft walls of Sudan grass, in which the maze was created by preventing grass growth with strips of masonite and plastic. Escape from Sod Maze gave the pleasant vantage of height; escape from Bluff invoked the mild adventure of thrusting one’s way through this artificial veldt of Massachusetts. In either case, the escapee began with the anticipation of passage through a maze.

But Fleischner’s very recent work escapes preconceived notions of a maze. Sited Work, exhibited this autumn at the “Sculpture Sited” show of the Nassau County Museum of Fine Arts, was a maze as loose in its demands as Sod Construction was tight. Pairs of photographs were exhibited at over twenty different sites: one photograph was of the site itself, the other photograph of another location or object elsewhere in the world. The maze’s worldwide interstices were proffered in space, but linked in the mind. Compare this with Sod Construction: a vertical maze, like escalator tiers, rigidly walled by bars on the bottom and gravity on top, offering no options beyond a self-made dare.

In their extreme approaches, both these pieces are the special kind of maze which doesn’t appear to be a maze until the participant is already in its toils. Unfortunately, exploring Sod Construction in functional Hammarskjold Plaza felt tantamount to public exhibitionism. Maybe after its three-month stand Fleischner will find means to reassemble it in other surroundings.

Barbara Barack