New York

Martin Silverman

Edward Thorp Gallery

However much Thek embraces clichés and funk, his shrug of a technique preserves the results from being “cute.” That epithet seems to be reserved for clichés and funk that are carefully, pains takingly rendered. Somehow the lavished attention is diagnosed as the symptom of an infatuation with the subject. I suspect that Martin Silverman is curious to see how far “cute” can be pushed—it may be the only taboo left to contemporary art.

In his preceding show the laborious, hokey figures were foiled by their own return-of-the-repressed sexuality. There was pathology in that homely ’30s stockiness. Having redeemed one period style that languished in the exhaust of the Modernist juggernaut, Silverman has apparently decided to dust off two other somewhat marginal reputations—those of Elie Nadelman and of the Alexander Calder of the Circus. Graceful, tapering sinuosity and openwork kitsch are keyed to themes of acrobatic prowess. In fact, in these jugglers, football players, swimmers, and body builders, Silverman gives us an America reborn in the name of Nautilus, an aristocracy of physique that dallies in a new Eden where Eve, given a second chance, is literally about to slay the serpent of guilt. Sex is a lighthearted romp. Indeed, Judith is a kind of time machine that restores Holofernes’ head to him. The presence of a word to be read (the title, made part of the sculpture), suggests that the linear tableau be perused from left to right, yet the lefthand episode shows Judith with the severed head held a loft, and the righthand, the embrace prior to the execution. The urge to undo, to go back, is strong, and Silverman is not without a consciousness of the absurdity of the dream at this historical juncture. Any fresh start would be as comically strained and late in the seasonas the baby of Autumn Birth. However, the overwhelming effect is of an uncomplaining takeover of Calder’s and Nadelman’s breezy intentions. Silverman puts his arms around their mannerisms and catches or deliberately exposes himself to a nostalgia for their pre-Freudian innocence. This is why these works edge so much closer to the terminal stages of cute. No mania disrupts the form or talks out of turn. There are formal dividends—for instance, the reclaiming of drawing in space for the figural, or the innovative combination of forging and massing in one piece; if it was clear that these were worth it, the work would, in a way, lose its greatest power—to irritate us into questioning “taste.” Silverman has isolated the virus.

Jeanne Silverthorne