New York

Robert Stackhouse

Sculpture Now

In the basement of Sculpture Now, Robert Stackhouse constructed a piece called Running Animals and hung a number of painted sketches for similar sculptures. The piece consisted of two long tilted “walls” made of two by fours loosely sheathed in rough slats. Placed a couple of feet apart, they formed a long narrow passageway which could be walked through. Inside, at a couple of places, deers’ antlers were placed like relics above head level. They could easily go unnoticed.

The drawings on the wall, proposals for pieces to be built in the woods, indicated several versions of the basic idea, including a couple where the two planes cross through each other. Each version is intended be constructed on roughly arc-shaped concrete foundations. In the woods such foundations would be more or less permanent, the artist’s notes indicated, while the structure built upon it could either be repaired at regular intervals and so preserved or allowed to decay naturally. The forms suggest the loping, curving courses animals might take moving through the forest.

An ambiguous relation between planning and control, on the one hand, and surrender to natural or presented phenomena, on the other, seems to be at the heart of Stackhouse’s efforts. For example, obvious pains have been taken to screw every slat—the slats themselves are left very rough—to the braces, when nails would have taken a quarter of the time. These and other details hint that Stackhouse is concerned with the aspect of art-making as ritual. In ritual, too, carefully planned events and constructions leave a residue of fundamental contingency at their center.

Stackhouse’s ritual is assumed, however. The Running Animals piece recalls something made by a hunting tribe, a religious edifice dedicated to the movement of game, perhaps. The work itself has another aspect, though. Built in the woods, the piece would seem less like a temple than a corn crib or other architectural outpost gone to seed. Its real charm lies less in the ritual aspects than in the formal ones. In the gallery the piece appeals for exploration, for walking in and around, for close examination of its joints and curves. Individual examination of the piece is more interesting than all of Stackhouse’s tribal pretensions.

Phil Patton