Bernard Kirschenbaum

Malmö Konsthall

It will seem perhaps equally surprising to Americans and to Scandinavians that since the late 70s the New York sculptor Bernard Kirschenbaum has found industries interested in using their resources to realize his projects most often in Sweden and to some extent in Finland, and that it is chiefly in these two countries that galleries and museums have been willing to subject their spaces to his quiet but drastic operations. The latest of these was at the Malmö Konsthall, whose big, open, yet perceptually secure boxlike rooms were shaken to their foundations as they became the scene of Kirschenbaum’s biggest and most elaborate show to date.

The largest role in the installation was played by a kind of triptych of three gigantic curves, arranged in conjunction with the open plan of the museum. Its main corpus was a 100-foot-long double curtain made of thin hanging wires alternating between steel and copper; the steel wires hung from the ceiling to the floor, while the copper ones, short at the curtain’s outer edges, grew increasingly longer to reach the floor at its center. Together, the copper wires embodied a shimmering parabola. Like a projection from outer space, this open form seemed to shoot down through the roof, annihilating the indifferent security of the room. As one entered the show that security seemed confirmed: on the wall facing the entrance hung a segment of a circle in massive plates of bronze, a curve which in itself carried the imperturbable stability and strength of the entire closed circle.

However, not only the room but the viewer, as a sensuous body rather than as a social animal, participated in Kirschenbaum’s installation. As one broke through the first layer of metal wires in the double curtain, disturbing the perfect curve of the parabola, the tension in the room behind one diminished immediately; the curve lost its bold bronze rival. And when the parabola, slowly jingling, resumed its form, one found oneself in a corridor through whose semitransparent walls the exhibition space seemed to be redefined. Suddenly it stretched beyond the glass wall on the other side of the curtain too, encompassing the area outside the museum where a third curve was formed by a coarse, corroded steel tube, also 100 feet long. And while the two indoor curves were conic sections, and what Gestalt psychology, in its ethnocentricity, would call “good configurations,” the curve of the tube was unique. Its vague, somehow undefined form sprang from the relation between the weight of the tube and its load-bearing capacity. Its ends had quite simply been lifted as far as they could be without the center of the curve leaving the ground.

Kirschenbaum interferes with architecture in a manner both bold and economical, paring down his propositions like William of Occam. Yet his works are not only “operations” but also a kind of “building.” I like to think of them as deriving from the synthesis of, on the one hand, his collaboration with Gordon Matta-Clark and others in the Anarchitecture Group during the early ’70s, and, on the other, his years as an architect in partnership with Buckminster Fuller in the ’50s. Possibly it is the same kind of dialectic that has made it possible for him to use computers and lasers in producing his work while keeping at bay the rhetoric of power so easily associated with advanced technology. Or almost, but not quite: a counterpoint to the clearly temporary installation of the three curves took the form of a beautiful 21-foot-high arch of two triangular pillars of stainless steel, each pillar twisted a third of a turn and leaning toward the other to create a very definite “sculpture.” Looking at this piece I recognized the uneasy pleasure I have derived from watching the late-Modernist skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan play their sophisticated game with the cumuli of the autumn sky.

Lars Nittve

Translated from the Swedish by Lars-Håkan Svensson.