San Francisco

Victor Cohen-Stuart

The Oakland Museum

In Victor Cohen-Stuart’s work, painting traditions are played against sculptural intent, and an implied utilitarianism confronts fetishistic form. The materialistic vocabulary of these works is decidedly painterly—canvas, paint, wooden stretcher bars and string. But the objects realized, constructions that seem to tear away from their supports, are intentionally sculptural.

Of the seven pieces in this current exhibition, the larger works, averaging 6 by 9 feet, emanate the most force. The objects are carefully fabricated, string and canvas organized in a way to suggest nautical apparatus or the rotting hulk of some discarded industrial device. The construction of these works, a series of jagged apertures through which shadows are cast into the inside of the structure, yields an interior/exterior sensibility that offers comparison to shelter type constructions.

From a distance, Cohen-Stuart’s objects thrust aggressively into space, tautly stretching off the wall or precariously balancing from a thin ground support. This sense of extreme gesture is counterpointed by the delicacy of color and attention to detail that is apparent on closer observation. In his use of silver and maroon hues, the artist subtly merges the natural tone of the material with the applied color. Implicit in this work is a contradiction between Abstract Expressionistic painterly ruggedness realized in three-dimensional form, and a fetishism arrived at through methodical wrapping and the primitive connotations of the animal-hide appearance. In both detailing and color, Cohen-Stuart flirts with a slickness that at times threatens to overwhelm the integrity of the work. Perhaps it is from this threat that a particular vitality emerges.

Hal Fischer