New York

Richard Stankiewicz

Zabriskie Gallery

Even though sculpture moves at a somewhat slower pace than painting, anyone working with welded steel at this point has got to be doing something mighty unusual with it to get the viewer’s adrenalin flowing. When you walk into a roomful of Richard Stankiewicz’s metal works, you could easily get a sinking feeling. If you’re conscientious, you try to pump the saliva back into your mouth and at least admire the obsession.

For Stankiewicz is continuing here his demonstration of the basic strategy of post–David Smith modernism, which Rosalind Krauss once defined as “treat[ing] the sculpture as an irrational volume: a set of peripheral elements deprived of a constructive core.” What could be a more literal, textbook illustration of that last desideratum than this verbal sketch of the recent Stankiewicz work, taken from a press release: “found metal . . . regular and irregular shapes attached to square and rectangular frames at various points along their perimeters”? As in Stankiewicz’s last series, the new pieces imply a viewfinder, the objects of whose view take up the sides of the frame, like mercury fleeing under the pressure of a thumb. In some, there is a calculated imbalance: the fragments may adhere only to an upper corner, for instance. If the intention of this is to heighten the illogicality, it upsets the viewer’s conceptual digestion for the briefest of moments before being settled by a grasp of the stabilizing weight and area of the base.

These days we have become interested in what modernists would have considered retrograde; some of the functions of this work would have gone against their grain. Stankiewicz’s pictorializing, his twisting of sculpture to refer to painting and relief, would formerly have seemed a way of distinguishing “sculpture” from ordinary objects, a way of spelling the word with a capital “S.” Now, on the contrary, it can seem a self-conscious investigation and subversion of artifice and convention.

Can seem, but isn’t. Stankiewicz sets the conditions of his sculpture to match those of painting or relief—there’s a frame, and the point of view is dictated. It’s irrelevant to look at these works in profile; one is clearly meant to see them from the front. There’s even some illusionism: in one piece a length of pipe enters behind another form at one angle but emerges at a slightly different one, like a stick refracted by water. If traditionally there’s one thing that has been the province of painting it’s secrets and illusions, while, if there’s one thing that has been sculpture’s, it’s show and tell—a sculpture may defer its information, but eventually one “sees” how it was done. With a Stankiewicz you can always walk around to the back and dispel the illusion, find out whether that pipe was really bent, or broken, or two different pipes. It seems, then, that Stankiewicz’s is still a special pleading for the preservation of categories and boundaries between genres, for sculpture’s and painting’s knowing their respective places—an essentially conservative stance that reinforces the conservativeness of his material.

Jeanne Silverthorne