New York

Ursula von Rydingsvard

Bette Stoler Gallery

In five new cedar constructions, Ursula von Rydingsvärd continues an evolutionary course of esthetic investigation, reclaiming the essence of her material and contriving to return the wood to the textural imperfection of nature. The thematic consistency of this new work is exceptional and highlights a complex content. Von Rydingsvärd takes cedar beams that have been milled into standard construction modules and intently chisels, grinds, and saws a natural and almost artless character and idiosyncrasy back into each element. These beams are then assembled to create virtually seamless walls, surfaces, and enclosures as compelling and sometimes as threatening as nature itself. The irony of von Rydingsvärd’s method—her recapitulation of natural forms through skillful and arduous manipulation—is one of the most forceful themes in her work; the sculpture reverberates with the ritual of production.

All of these new constructions involve the assembly of elements similar in scale and quality yet subtly varying. It is as if some mechanized production-line process has gone awry, and the resulting mutations in a lockstep module have been employed rather than rejected. The elements are consistent enough with each other to be assembled into a surface, but their various deviations create relief. Von Rydingsvärd’s work explores conformity, mutability, and the arbitrary distinctions made between the two.

One of the most ambitious pieces here was Lucretia’s Wall I, 1984, three parallel walls of tall, slender, tightly joined shaped timbers, each of which is appointed with a protruding limb at its top. The walls are placed close together, stretching into the gallery space to form narrow corridors one would be wary of entering. The tactile quality and the proportions of the piece are beautiful; the claustrophobic spaces and projecting spears are sinister. In another, untitled piece, von Rydingsvärd has constructed a circular enclosure of fragile elements assembled to form a nestlike haven. Whereas Lucretia’s Wall I delights yet threatens, this untitled piece warmly embraces and contains space.

It is this ambivalence and the phenomenon of variability that draws one to von Rydingsvärd’s work. The artist painstakingly discloses the warmth, color, and occasionally the potential for cruelty of the material, as well as commenting on the natural environment of rhythms and mutations. She ironically balances the poignant history of the found object in this century by reinventing found states through willful transformation. The work proposes that the way to subvert standardization is through a belief in the possibilities of imperfection; von Rydingsvärd’s adroitness with the processes of reduction and accumulation brings to bear a scope and expansive content that challenges the homogenizing tendencies of classification.

Patricia C. Phillips