Alison Wilding

Galleria Salvatore + Caroline Ala

Whenever sculpture has an effect of completion without any intimation of death, it puts us in a false position: our role is to admire an object that is so well mannered (after all, it has done all the work for us) that we cannot take issue with it. Disagreements are outside the work’s code of behavior and only make us look bad. This is not exactly dictatorial; such a piece is very often only reticent in style. But it so refuses passion and ideas that dialogue is irrelevant, as it is with certain people, ever so nice, who simply know what's healthy and sane and what's not, and who prefer not to argue about it.

The sculptures of Alison Wilding are not quite in this category but they edge toward it. They rely on our assuming a force field around their simple gestures, a consecrated circle of austerity and stillness more radical than the works themselves, which compromise, and so have the air of trying to please too many people at once. Not quite self-confident, they do seem to aspire to cosmetic perfection.

Laboring too much to be winsome, the pieces refer to both nonfigurative antecedents and, by way of their resemblance to articles of clothing, the figure. Richard Serra makes his presence felt in the miniature curving slice of Breaker, 1985, and Barbara Hepworth’s conceit of poignant holes is at work in the many pierced forms, Vestal, 1985, among them. Out of these openings a part of the sculpture will seem to unfold and then arrange itself—more in the nature of a visual effect than the actuality of Fletcher Benton’s or Bill Woodrow’s umbilical proofs of process. The two-for-one technique and references should be primarily economical rather than elegant. Yet the force of necessity is stronger in Judith Shea’s body of work, where clothing remains clothing and figurative allusion is not confused with the work’s major proposition. In Wilding, it’s not clear where the emphasis lies. For instance, whereas the helmetlike Headland, 1986, the shoulder pads of Into the Dark, 1986, and the metal tunic of Airing Light, 1985, register as armor, Core #2, 1985, suggests a fiddleback chasuble, Brim, 1985, the hat of a Roman Catholic priest, and the rest of the shapes, if not religious vestments, at least implements of vaguely ecclesiastical import. Two sides of the same coin these may be, but Wilding never identifies the coin. Costumes of investiture for medieval estates, the pieces render war and religion ritualistic. They also recall vessels, where once again the holes symbolically allow intent to leak away and elude us.

Jeanne Silverthorne