New York

Mac Adams

Freidus/Ordover Gallery

Narrativity has been an element central to Mac Adams’ work since the photographic “Mysteries,” 1972–80. In these (usually) composite images Adams constructed mise-en-scènes based on typical crime fiction genres; objects “innocent” or without meaning in themselves, through their contexts, became clues or signs loaded with a sinister significance. A particular configuration of such signs—a disorderly bathroom, for instance—could be narrated as the afterimage of a criminal or violent act. The work spoke about the nature of interpretation, or, more specifically, about our desire to organize the visible world into rational meaning. Adams’ recent work, however, shows an acceptance of the limitations of rational thought, and indeed of the limitations of the photographic representation, whose “facticity” renders it inappropriate to express our relation to a world fraught with ambiguity. Although his work remains anecdotal, its meaning is no longer specific; while the photographs were records of a state of matter, these sculptures are allegories of a state of mind.

Each sculpture is a “landscape” with figures, modeled in clay and cast in bonded bronze of a uniform earthy red or green. The works are small in scale, spotlit to enhance the drama of the scenes, and mounted at eye level so that, in walking around, the plinths, the viewer has command of every aspect. Of the several characters who enact the dramas, two are recurrent: a portly figure hooded like a Klansman, and a “terrorist” in a cat mask. In the majority of the pieces these anonymous figures perpetrate an act of violence against a third, who is depicted as unmasked and vulnerable. In Silence, 1983, a motherly figure brings a tray of food to a kidnap victim lying on a pallet and guarded by the armed terrorist; in Collusion, 1983, one hooded and armed figure sits in a boat while his comrade raises an oar to batter the head of a man who is already near drowning in a swelling sea. These pieces are rectangular and slablike, modeled with rich texture to suggest the forms without being naturalistic. Like the photographs, they use chiaroscuro, and comprise cropped views of a larger world seen in simple perspective.

With Picnic, 1983, and Dialogue on Brynmawr, 1983, however, Adams achieves a less theatrical, more sculptural resolution to the scenario,and comes closer to his desire to present a multiplicity of readings of a single “event.” In these pieces the landscape is not flat but domed—this is an almost holistic, microcosmic world inhabited by “actors” organized as if on the cranium or helmet of a Celtic giant, the relationships between them capable of being read differently according to the viewpoint. Picnic, which presents a supine (or dead) man, a bottle, a mushroomlike tree, a fleeing girl, and a snake (in the grass), suggests the Adam and Eve myth and consequently gives a clue to the uncanny element of the work. For these are fables, not illustrative of definable tales, but of something more arcane: states of being, masked, hidden, and barely comprehensible by conscious thought. Each character becomes one of several facets of a single entity; passive victim and aggressive hunter are trapped in a relationship from which there is no release and for which there is no rational explanation, representing, perhaps, the internal conflicts of the self in a world bereft of certitude.

Jean Fisher