New York

Anne Sperry

Lerner-Heller Gallery

One of the installations at Wards Island this summer was ANNE SPERRY’s raggedy row of steel flowers aimed like gooseneck lamps at the East River. The flowers were reminiscent of the cute, literal, unusable playground sculpture that tired landscape architects select from mail-order catalogues. The work contradicted its pastoral, water-oriented setting, becoming an exercise in the kind of lawn decoration that cries out for aquamarine-painted tire planters filled with geraniums.

Reduced in scale, varied in composition, and removed to a gallery setting, Sperry’s sculpture gains some authority. It is still very much about flowers. but there has been a not insensitive attempt at abstraction. The show is predominantly made up of wall pieces which divide into two distinct groups. One is composed of pieces shaped like platters and garnished with pastel-painted wedges that jerk the sculpture into high relief. The other is composed of more complex, more aggressively angled shapes hanging down from twisted, tubular stems. The centerpiece of the show blends all the elements together in a spray that edges its way off the wall like a recalcitrant Stella. Unfortunately, the elements don’t mesh all that well, and the piece just rambles around looking for a centering device that isn’t there.

One of the curious aspects of these industrial steel pieces is that they can mimic ceramics very well. The paint achieves much the same effect on the metal as does a glaze on clay. The colors are great (nice punky blues and pinks), but they appear only as tastefully spare accents. The contrast in textures is too carefully attended to, and unvaryingly discreet. There is something coming—really nasty flowers could be great—but at this point the work lacks the toughness of its materials; it is too refined. There is some feisty, ugly art under the overly considered compositions and decorously applied paint, but it is being harnessed by educated esthetics. It needs to be informed by some basics from “Fishheads,” a song Dr. Demento used to push on the radio on the West Coast: “They don’t wear sweaters. They don’t go to high school. Fishheads, fishheads. Eat them up Yum!”

Richard Flood