San Francisco

Stuart Lehrman

Acme Art

Stuart Lehrman’s work is provocative in its flamboyant hedonism. His wood sculptures are not only polychrome but multifaceted, and each razor-edged plane is handled with such fetishistic finesse that material sleekness could be construed as emotional slickness. In a period dominated by expressions of “down” moods in “dirty” painterliness, Lehrman’s work suggests the upbeat vivacity of an obsessive Mr. Clean. The sheer delectability of the textural effects—both visual and tactile—can appear deceptively as infatuation with the purely visual. In fact, the sculptures’ rich sensuality easily polarizes viewers’ initial reactions, which range from attraction to aversion. The evidence of fine craftsmanship in this tongue-and-groove carpentry and in the use of myriad pigments and media acts to confront viewers’ ambivalence about traditional skills. It reminds us of the distinction Charles Baudelaire made between a work of art being “complete” or being “finished.” In comparison to the rougher immediacy of much current work, Lehrman’s technical control produces work that is “finished,” in the sense of being both complete and polished.

Stepping back from the seductiveness of the surfaces, it becomes evident that the pivotal aspect of the work is this very spirit of obsessiveness, manifest in these constructions through not only textural detail but structural complexity. If one can resist the tendency to let pattern and color overwhelm the perception of shape, one then becomes aware of the tight assemblage of blades and cylinders splaying from both the wall works and the freestanding pieces. The sculptures’ angles vary from acute to obtuse, their edges from straight to ragged, the textures from glossy to fissured. In contrast to the harmonious beauty of many of the individual planar surfaces, the conglomeration radiates a compressed energy explosive in its tensions. Together they create a powerful presence.

The plethora of visual and spatial elements is like a mind buzzing with fragments of visual memories, or like the sensory overload created by a crowded commercial street. The textures as distillations of surfaces perceived and felt—are both abstract (either clarified or exaggerated) and referential. The compositions’ bold asymmetry jostles suggestions of encrusted earth, splattered linoleum and lacquered fenders. The works juxtapose strange beauty with domestic banalities, embracing each to produce objects of fascination whether their source be nature or kitsch. The work suggests a sculptural array of the indiscreet charms of bourgeois environments.

With all these formal stimuli vying for attention in each work, a balance of scale and detail is crucial to keep the intensity from degenerating into either fussiness or freneticism. In the works exhibited here, the smaller freestanding pieces (30 inches high or smaller) appeared too compressed for their size; a larger relief, Night Moves, 1985, was most effective both in its expansive scale (72 by 21 by 15 inches) and dynamic thrust away from the wall and in its evocation of the textures and moods created by nocturnal light.

Suzaan Boettger