New York

Richard Fishman

Max Hutchinson Gallery

There is a time when an artist finishes working his way through recent art history, leaves his artistic influences behind, and begins making his own work. Some artists reach this point in their early 20s; others may be well into their middle years; some never reach it. But no matter when it happens, there’s a freshness and sense of experimentation about the new work. It may be tentative and lack the assurance of earlier work done on safe, familiar ground, but it will have enthusiasm, vitality and individuality.

Richard Fishman reached this point about two years ago. The 11 sculptures and four drawings in his latest show of work done over the past 18 months seem significantly better and more individual than his earlier work, which was strongly influenced by Smith, Caro, Judd, Serra and Morris.

There are four elements in Fishman’s new work that seem worth exploring: (1) the relationship between the floor and the wall; (2) the place of drawing in sculpture; (3) the shadows cast by the work on the floor or wall; and (4) scale.

Several of the works hang on the wall. Several sit on the floor. The most interesting ones, however, depend on both the wall and the floor for support. In Flame Sheet D.C., a steel wire projects out from a roughly torn triangular piece of copper foil placed at eye level on the wall and curves down to the floor. The wire brings the work closer to the viewer by acknowledging the fact that the work and the viewer are rooted to separate but adjoining surfaces. In the show’s most successful work, which is untitled, the work’s dependence for support is more evenly divided between the wall and the floor. Two steel rods with copper foil attached lean against the wall at shoulder height, parallel to each other and six feet apart. At the points where the rods touch the floor, nine feet from the wall, they are braced by a long, ankle-high block of gray granite. Fishman’s interest in the floor-wall relationship seems broader than that of two other artists who have concerned themselves with it: Sylvia Mangold has made paintings of wood floors and baseboards, and Richard Serra, in Splashing (1968) at the Castelli Warehouse, threw molten lead along the juncture of the wall and floor, thereby highlighting and obscuring the juncture at the same time. Fishman is not interested in the juncture per se but seems to be exploring the relationship between the two planes more generally.

Drawing is an element not usually associated with contemporary sculpture. In Fishman’s sculptures the “drawing” consists of spidery steel wires attached to the rods. In Flame Sheet D.C. and North South Tear, the wires, or drawing, visually connect the wall sculptures to the floor. In the untitled work, two roughly horizontal wires serve a different purpose by echoing the line of the long granite block opposite them.

The use of the wires creates a problem: the shadows cast on the floor and walls by the bulkier parts of the works are general and easily ignored; but those cast by the wires are so specific that they have to be taken into account in the over-all perception of the work. It’s a difficult problem because the shadows depend on the placement of the lights and so will necessarily vary from the studio to the gallery. Another difficulty is that this element could become a gimmick if not handled sensi tively. Fishman is aware of the problem, but so far has chosen not to deal with it head on.

Fishman has dealt with scale for about seven years, and his best works seem to be those like Flame Sheet D.C. and the untitled piece which have a close correspondence to human scale. The least interesting pieces are those wall sculptures which deal less consciously with scale and make no gesture toward the floor. They’re attractive, but they lack the tension and excitement of several later works, especially the untitled one, which is fine indeed.

Jeffrey Keeffe