Alison Wilding

Galleria Salvatore + Caroline Ala

In the spacious, newly relocated Salvatore Ala gallery, the precise, and precisely arranged, sculptures by the young British artist Alison Wilding looked defenseless and ill at ease. It was necessary to pause and isolate each work, to feign the presence of enveloping shadows. The rounded, highly polished shapes retain something of Constantin Brancusi’s legacy of form, just as the juxtaposition of diverse materials recalls the Brancusian idea of the sculpturally functional pedestal. But in Wilding’s work there is no differentiation among elements: polished or painted stone, metal, and wood are precisely balanced so that no one element predominates. An alchemical duality is present in all the sculptures; the artist does not experiment with sulphur and mercury or fire and water but, rather, infers two phases of the alchemical process—coagulation and solution. Each piece reveals a fundamental understanding of material, and a creative goal consistent with that of the alchemist—that is, not merely to transform base metals into gold but the simple into the sublime.

Wilding’s work is often mentioned in the context of arte povera, but her “minerals” are touched up with a precision that is foreign to the work of that group. For example, the brass “wings” in Hard for Hard, 1984, at first glance rough and rusty, are in reality covered with small, precise spots of color, a suspension of graphite and pigment in an oil base. Stones, plastics, sheet metal—natural or technological castoffs—are polished to the point of obsession: in Nature: Blue and Gold, 1984, brass becomes burnished gold and ash wood takes on the bluish tone of rare pearls. Wilding’s smaller works are often the most focused; it is easier to understand her technique and methodology in Shady 1, 1983, a sheet of curved copper painted with small gold marks, than in Ditch, 1983, an enormous rubber-and-lead boomerang that rests on the floor. This is also true because neither Wilding’s sculptures nor the practice of alchemy requires large spaces or much light: the return to the void and to the“cavern of the heart” occurs within, not around, the work.

Barbara Maestri

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.