New York

Mia Westerlund

Castelli Gallery | Uptown

Mia Westerlund’s June show consisted of two large sculptures, each made up of massive concrete wedges. In one piece, four horizontal wedges composed an oblong diamond capped with sheets of roofing copper; the vertical slabs of the other piece bore heavy plates of brownish steel which had been set in flush with the surface. Despite these sculptures’ apparent simplicity, every part of them participates in playing out a series of rich antiphonies—between mass and detail, fixity and mobility, structure and embellishment, newness and decay, monumentality and transparency.

These antithetical qualities never correlate strictly with the works’ physical aspects. At one moment, the concrete may represent solidity and the metal ornamentation, but they change roles abruptly, as the viewer moves around the work. Seductive embellishment is present both in the concrete—which bears a pattern of trowel marks not unlike the burnishing on David Smith’s Cubi—and the metal, whose nebulous, merging colors (the result of oxidation) suggest Rothko and Newman.

Westerlund’s sculptures refer to the past, yet belong entirely to the present. Their rust patterns recall the art of the 50’s; their clean, painstakingly clear shapes (i.e., the margins around the steel plates in Muro Series III) gesture toward Stella. Meanwhile, their utilitarian materials invite architectural associations. These references conjure an idea of coexistent rootedness and flexibility.

The massiveness of the concrete makes her wedges far too heavy to lift, move or arrange; yet at the same time, they stand separated by the narrowest air spaces, delicate hiatuses suggesting that the wedges have indeed been moved and arranged with extraordinary, impossible precision. Their surface embellishment emphasizes the illusion that the sculptures must be lighter than they actually are.

This appearance of being at once flexible and stationary, playful and serene, suggests a mingling of intellect and sensuality. Westerlund’s works’ balance and precision are the result of calculation, but her concrete masses are so thoroughly swathed in detail that one wonders whether structure or adornment came first. Indeed, her sculptures have the sense of having sprouted full-grown, possibly because of their very massiveness, from which surface detailing cannot really be dissociated. In this way, Westerlund’s work comes close to that of Dorothea Rockburne. But where Rockburne’s golden sections allude to art’s past, they are esoteric, and to a degree, reticent and forbidding. Westerlund’s work is extraordinarily candid about its connection with the past, and can thus afford to be comfortable with the present.

Leo Rubinfien