New York

Al Taylor

Alfred Kren Gallery

Wall works, constructions that stake out a deliberately ambiguous territory between painting and sculpture, seem to be a mostly mannered genre these days, perhaps because of a virulent cultural conservatism which is impatient with cross-genre problems, or because of a simple exhaustion of interest after the heady days of the ’60s and ’70s, when such objects presented so many new possibilities. But Al Taylor’s exhibition demonstrated just how much remains to be explored in this hybrid area. Far from realigning themselves with their respective genres or retreating from conceptual confusion into gimmicky flourishes, Taylor’s objects revel in adding more perceptual twists to this already tricked-up idea, piling ambiguity on top of ambiguity What’s more, the units were presented without any of the theoretical trappings common to the genre, leaving them stripped bare of didacticism. Even more rare, these constructions look modest in an offhand way, sometimes even flashing a droll humor to deflect the earnest bombast that afflicts many such attempts to tackle the issue of painting versus sculpture.

The works’ serendipitous agenda was clearly laid out in this show. They make use of basic geometric shapes but terrifically skew their alignment with one another. The individual pieces are complete—that is, they look coherently bounded—but their materials and structural arrangements are “unfinished,” giving them an air of being in process. Taylor uses ordinary found materials such as broomsticks, lengths of wire, and lumber scraps, but their capricious yet purposeful manner of assemblage and ritualistic paint accents—black and/or white stripes, circular daubs, white washes—lend the works an aura of the totemic, like timeworn African cult objects.

Within this repertory of effects, the works’ emphasis seems to shift. Some focus on fracturing planes and lines of sight, as do Untitled (Feta), 1985, a plywood rectangle with an echoing rectangle thrust out from it at an angle by a length of wood, and Untitled, 1986, in which a wooden tondo sprouts a profusion of sticks at odd angles. Destabilized geometry, overlapped planes, various materials butted together—these elements create a sense of vibrant energy made concrete. Other of Taylor’s works flaunt their Rube Goldbergian methods. Untitled, 1986, is a wooden panel from which a succession of joined sticks poke outward, downward, then back into the wall below; it looks like a satire on measuring devices. Still other pieces describe a reliquary presence—for instance, Untitled (Eating with Children), 1986, a whitewashed piece of wood with a brace of disjointed broom handles that resembles a ceremonial headdress, mounted so that you could back up to it and duck underneath to put it on. Untitled (Trap for Tall Persons), 1985, a small wooden panel with a radiating swirl of sticks, anthologizes all of these concerns in one hieratic object, a wall workthat also capsules the alluring qualities of playful complexity, quirky technique, and dry wit that characterized this exhibition as a whole.

John Howell