Los Angeles

Michael Todd

Arco Center

If the Manzanar photos argue the Americanization of the Japanese, Michael Todd’s sculptures do the reverse. With names like “Kakebana,” “Moribana,” and “Daimaru” attached, Todd is obviously after associations with the Japanese art of flower arrangement. What’s in a name? Well, Todd’s sculptures are astonishingly delicate and arranged like . . . flowers. The components are bulky pieces of steel detritus, and consequently it’s no mean achievement that the junk is arranged with such grace. Some of the sculptures are monumental—one is ten feet high—but they seem weightless. Almost the work of a draughtsman rather than a sculptor, these works are arranged rather than constructed. Outside the laws of gravity, they seem to float rather than stand.

Of the 12 sculptures on view, Homage to Morris Louis is the centerpiece. It’s as if Cy Twombly made a line drawing of a George Rickey. Homage has a vegetable expansiveness to it: the gesture of its limbs is like two asparagus conducting. Todd’s strategy for his new large work—there are five in this exhibition—is to set up a frame and embellish it. In Homage and Morris Minor, the frame is a pair or a few sinuous limbs upon which smaller pieces of lacquered steel are arranged. In the other three large pieces, the “Daimaru” series, Todd’s frame is a large open circle, which functions like an iris, elements gracefully cascading down its periphery.

What makes Todd’s sculptures so remarkable is that for large-scale steel work they are never priapic and heavy, but have an aerated, open quality that’s exhilarating in work of its size and material. Todd transforms the menacing and rusty scraps of steel into elegantly lacquered confluences. The dynamic between the draughtsman’s line and the sculptor’s mass makes this work exciting.

The smaller pieces, the “Kakebanas” and “Ronins,” are not show-stoppers, because Todd in the miniature is not the peculiar combination of threat and charm. The trio of “Kakebanas,” mounted on the wall by all but invisible nails, grow out of the wall’s surface like weeds suspended by their own torment. They are eerie and contorted, not cute like the “Ronins,” not confident like his Moribana IX, but bizarrely plantlike.

Todd’s work used to seem like the caboose at the end of the Smith/Caroline; his new work unburdens him of all that avoirdupois and instead has the humor of a soaring punchline.

Carrie Rickey