New York

Charles Fahlen

Frank Kolbert Gallery

As seen in models, plans and photographs, the work of Charles Fahlen relates equally to site-specific sculpture of the present and commemorative sculpture of the past. Three of the five proposals here seem to be for public works in the conventional sense. These proposals—one for a J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial in Los Alamos, one entitled Major for the American Postal Workers House in Philadelphia, and one called General Grant for Chester Springs, Pennsylvania—all honor public figures or services in public places, and all allude to their subjects with their forms. For example, the cubistically split columns of the Oppenheimer Memorial refer, in context, to the split atom and to nuclear research in general. The monument for the Postal Workers House, a tower made up of three grey, brown and red blocks, is also allusive. The heroic symbolism of the House is not too subtle, though ironically it can be seen as hierarchic, representative of a society whose bottom block is the worker.

No less obvious is the proposal entitled General Grant. Also a tower, it is made up of concrete rungs but is set on its side, as if fallen like the hero. (The General was a notorious drunk.) The same heavy symbolism weighs in the proposal called Rite Way. A pillar with a base, it too is fallen and the pillar is broken. It is hard not to read these two sculptures as allusions to the fall of public life and thus of public sculpture. Columns, towers, pillars—these are old subjects spoken about in an abstract language, but neither the subjects nor the language is well served.

The proposals are represented by models in the gallery, but the models do not work dialectically with the works on the sites. That is, there is none of the “site/non-site” tension that was so important to the projects of an artist like Smithson. Only one model evokes earthwork concerns; it is a trough with objects that represents a stream with rocks, calling to mind a Japanese form of esthetic contemplation, in which stones are sculpted naturally by erosion. Otherwise, in these proposals, the language of earthwork sculpture is made to speak in commemorative or historical terms; it becomes a social, even political, address that is contrary to its truly subversive import vis-à-vis public sculpture. Thereby recouped, it is put in the service of that which it opposes.

Hal Foster