New York

Beverly Pepper

Andre Emmerich Gallery

Constantly changing, width converts to narrowness, becomes a formidable expanse of blank wall, sharpens to a point, opens, becomes a thin connection between planes, closes again to an oblong box. Recesses fade into darkness until a solid piece of wall or cover cuts off the view. These are small pieces, but with the kind of inherent monumentality that suggest an urban landscape, and that might well be executed on the scale of Beverly Pepper’s Amphisculpture.

Funded by ITT for its corporate headquarters, Amphisculpture took two years to build and covers a 270-foot diameter of ground, enough for real impact by virtue of size alone. But Pepper has more to offer than mere bigness. The work consists of three concentric rings and two broad parallel ramps of poured concrete. It differs from a real amphitheatre in that there is no stage; the piece is meant to encourage total activity in the space. And it is being used, by ITT’s working community, for everything from picnics to ball playing. An ideal place for bikes and skateboards, the breadth and angle of the ramps invites speed and freedom.

Seen on end, the ramp walls at one side curve dramatically over the mound of lawn. The entire pattern of concentric rings and slashing ramps forms a beautifully enclosed space, successful in its dual purpose of being a used and viewed object. But the Amphisculpture was not the actual focus of Pepper’s recent exhibition. Represented by documentary photos and a film, it was secondary to six large and five small metal sculptures in the gallery, composed of flat, unpainted steel planks.

Like pick-up sticks caught in mid-air, the pieces ranged from the nearly upright (Rain Shadow) to the almost totally horizontal such as White Web, which, true to its name, perched tightly interwoven slats inches above the floor. They explore tensions between stasis and movement, and have more impact when viewed in series than seen individually. Perhaps they need more space than the rather cramped gallery allows them; the catalogue photos seem to capture the feeling of thrust and pull better, but no matter how well done the pieces are, they seem less risky than Amphisculpture. It’s a case where the simple solution actually encompasses, a skillful refinement far more difficult to achieve. Visually, the Amphisculpture is one complete idea while the steel pieces, by virtue of their intricate construction, can’t possibly achieve a similar impact. It’s a hard act to follow; at the moment, Pepper is caught between the monumental and the personal.

Deborah Perlberg