New York

Ed McGowin

Sculpture Now

Slightly east of the Schnabel site, our team discovers—can it be?—an excavation of an excavation?

Ed McGowin’s “Inscapes” are monumental artificts. “Inscape” I take to mean “interior landscape.” There are two huge inscapes on view, one called A Working Man, a second called Aging. Both are roughly 10 to 12 feet high, structures one must peek inside of to understand their meaning.

A Working Man is a three-tiered pyramid that’s slightly skew. That is to say it doesn’t seem to be an equilateral pyramid, but a right-triangled one.The exterior of this concrete pyramid is graced with a copper crest, with photographs of men by Lewis Hine and Cal Lom, and with some peculiar rock that California real estate agents used to call “Rocky Mountain stone.” The pyramid has a stairway you can ascend if you want to see what’s inside. It ain’t Tut, to be sure, but there’s lots of gilding. Arranged on a floor of sand, interior walls painted green (green and gold are the colors of money, which is what a working man lives and dies for), is a collection of gilded tools of a working man: mallet, gloves, pickaxe, shoes, shovel, Bible, cufflinks. Residue of a civilization of workers, this arrangement intends to do what? Exalt the common man’s tools as opposed to Tut’s preserved splendor? Make some point that the toil of the working man is “good as gold?” These could be the only possible interpretations and neither makes a strong point.

The other Inscape, Aging, is even thinner. An openwork dome—like that of an observatory—tops a cylindrical aluminum structure. There are some tiny windows through which one can look inside the structure, over which are inscribed epigrams like, “Some are born old, some never grow old”; “No wise man ever wished to be younger”; “Every age has its own pleasures, its own wit and customs.” Inside the structure is a tree which has bare branches.

Spraypainted silver. Money and letters are the spare decorations on this tree of life that more resembles a branch of barrenness. His point here? A not very convincing argument that age is its own reward; age enriches the ager with experience and memory.

I appreciate McGowin’s emphasis on making art that’s accessible to a public unconcerned with the private mumbles of art discourse, but is there a message he could offer that’s not so emptily celebratory? The mummified pall over the working man’s pyramid, the geriatric frailty in the aging Inscape, bespeak a lack of belief in the monumental qualities of these life cycles. The questions he asks—“Is the working man noble?”; “Is the aged person’s life rich with lived experience?”—are already answered before be begins. Harder questions might produce tougher, more exciting work.

Carrie Rickey