New York

Bill Woodrow

Barbara Gladstone Gallery

An important feature of recent British art has been the emergence of a group of young object sculptors. Although widely disparate in temperament and production, these artists are aligned, in general, by an attempt to reincorporate the object (and with it, representation), and by an urge to evoke the character of urban culture through cast-off industrial forms. In this, they are distanced both from such nature-oriented practices as that of Richard Long and from the “constructive” tradition epitomized by Anthony Caro. To date, only Tony Cragg has exhibited much in New York; September witnessed a shift, with one-person shows by Bill Woodrow and Jean-Luc Vilmouth.

Although both employ found forms arranged in ironic compositions, these two sculptors display different, even antithetical approaches to the industrial object. Woodrow’s temperament is that of the street-dweller, or urban flaneur, who appropriates the disused, sloughed-off forms of the street with a view to signifying associations. Car doors, steel lockers, and domestic appliances such as washing machines are brought into the gallery and reemployed as signs, transmuted from object into image. Woodrow uses the flat surfaces of his objects to make other objects by cutting and reassembling them from the two-dimensional “skins.” These images are left attached to their parent artifacts by metal strips; they are sometimes conjoined with other objects (e.g., the car tires in Lower East Side Lintel, 1983). Thus a car door attached to the ceiling trails a chandelier fabricated from its steel, from which is hung a similarly manufactured calculator and watch. Different systems of time, period, and value (time is money . . . ) seem implicit in this as in other Woodrow works, which often play punningly on associations. Indeed, a sense of history—of the archaeology of the object—pervades these pieces, but it is phrased with industrial rhetoric: these objects have lost their function in the pace of urban society, and bespeak a disused technological value. Freed from function, they are consequently open for commentarial use, which Woodrow wields quite wonderfully here in a discourse on the American city. Attention is paid in this series of sculptures to the leveling of violence in contemporary society—to its ubiquity and banality, and to its specific immanence in New York. Thus, in Lower East Side Lintel, the car doors and tires support an aged steel locker pierced by a massive dagger constructed from its “skin”; from the locker hangs an actual man’s suit and, from one supporting post, a fabricated portable stereo, the typical street-culture emblem. Other works sport pistols constructed from cupboards (Home Cooking, 1983). In Tattoo, 1983, a taxi fender trailing a bum’s ragged suit is mauled by a black panther cat in an evocation of urban violence uncaged, an image with a raw punch and incorporative verve that illustrates Woodrow’s strength.

Kate Linker