New Albany, Ind.

Skip Koebbeman

Floyd County Museum

The desire to thumb one’s nose at the “culture lords” is typically “provincial”whether or not the wishful artist is a declared iconoclast like SKIP KOEBBEMAN. Such an attitude is boring if self-righteous or utterly serious, but Koebbeman assumes the role of outsider looking in, a characteristically alienated and often ironic rock ’n’ roll, particularly Punk stance.

Two years ago Koebbeman formed a Punk band and named it No Fun. Maybe it’s no fun to be the outsider because you can’t play inner-circle games. But we sense from the ebullience and exhilaration of his sculpture that Koebbeman has had a lot of fun being punkishly “impolite” to the Minimalist esthetic to which he himself recently adhered.

Deliberately abandoning Minimalism’s coolness he now constructs finned plywood sculptures. After building a central structure he attaches sections of spikes, painted in bright glossy colors like emerald, crimson, sky blue, and amber, which have been individually bandsawed so that each is unique. From a distance the sculptures look metallic, but on closer view we see the grain of the wood. The work is at once natural and artificial, thus impure. Unlike Alice Aycock or Jackie Winsor, who use the naturalness of wood in an obvious way, or Minimalists whose chaste structures convey rationality, Koebbeman divorces himself from purity of material or form.

In many ways his sculpture has more to do with today’s painting: the goofy elegance or the highly energetic aspects of Elizabeth Murray, for instance. Indeed Koebbeman titled his sculpture installation Energies, and by giving the serially related fins formal precedence, he uses them as keys to content. Rather than conveying formal orderliness, they seem to flutter and vibrate, metaphors for waves of energy.

Each piece, compactly designed so as not to dissipate impact, thus becomes an energy burst whose explosiveness and apparent crashing through floors or walls recall the outbursts of noise from a rock band. He controls and releases energy in a similarly volatile way that closely connects humor and menace. The snaky form coiling along the floor seems like a silly toy; but it also seems ready to spring; if we fell on it, we’d be wounded.

Koebbeman understands the prankishness-cum-malevolence of Punk, an abrasiveness literally manifested in his sculptures’ jagged edges. As painting, according to a good deal of criticism, has played with edges, so too does Koebbeman, and wittily. We can be cut and poked by his edges or stuck on them, and at the same time, no edge exists because the fins obviate it.

Koebbeman’s sculpture may set us on edge, for it does function as an irritant, like New Wave ostinatos. Yet those rhythms are primary, like the energy that he wants to corporealize, and the feeling to which both Koebbeman and Punk aspire is that of immediacy. Conceptualizations and abstractions are not to the point; experiencing presentness, by existing in the midst of vital forces, is. Indeed Koebbeman’s work is genuine, perhaps ingenuously so, for an individual attempt at undermining New York “supremacy” may be more personally liberating than actually effective, just like the playing of Punk music. In the words of New Wave rocker Jonathan Richman: “Nobody ever called Pablo Picasso an asshole/Not in New York.” The sentiment, for the time being, is probably inconsequential to the artworld powers that be, but it must have felt damn good to express anyway. So too with Koebbeman’s Energies.

Joanna Frueh