New York

Bryan Hunt

Blum Helman Gallery

Most of us don’t resent the making of a buck if the atmosphere isn’t polluted or people are not killed, maimed, made hungry or destitute thereby So it isn’t that one objects to Bryan Hunt’s show of maquettes on that score. However, it is surely indicative of Hunt’s prematurity in inflating what are working sketches into salable objects that the limestone bases are so much larger and weightier than the diminutive bronze models they support. (About the unfortunate associations provoked by the oversized nuts inserted between model and base, a considerate silence is best.)

Bryan Hunt seems to have had a recent moment of aspiring to be Ernest Trova, one of those mock explorations of virgin territory one sets out on when bored or between major commissions. These small bronze works are the result of idle tinkering, and they show what is for Hunt a new literalness—for instance, the recognizable form of a shell in The Birth of Venus, 1986. Inexplicably, there is even a series of landscape drawings, “Irish Windows,” 1984, that, like the more abstract study sketches, seem to have little to do with the maquettes.

Hunt’s sculpture as a whole is a curious thing. His is one of the most reproduced but least critically commented on bodies of work; if the success of art lies in the heatedness of the talk it generates, Hunt’s has not been successful. Yet his work is something more than academic; it is needed, for two not unrelated reasons.

First of all, Hunt has filled in a historical gap by objectifying Abstract Expressionism. For instance, the structure of his Terre Haute, 1983, closely resembles that of Clyfford Still’s Painted 1945 in Richmond Virginia, 1945. Too, Hunt’s waterfalls saw through space in much the same way that Still’s jagged edges cleave the planar field. Allegedly, this kind of translation was hitherto unsuccessful, but we can be grateful to Hunt—not only for stepping into the breach, but, ironically, for stimulating a reexamination of the New York School. Second, Hunt brought texture back to sculpture, the need for which must be deeply ingrained in us. Kim Levin once correlated surface to skin, and texture (“surface excitations”) to sexualarousal—an explanation of the pleasure afforded by texture and the sense of righteousness in Minimalist denials of it. Process art also retrieved texture from the hinterlands beyond Minimalism’s industrial smoothness, but these were mainly “soft” textures such as rope, cloth, and plastic. What has always guaranteed Hunt’s popularity is the covering of a rigid armature with a frozen lava of fingermarks—a more attenuated version of Jasper Johns’ demonstration, in his body casts, of the connection between world and body Hunt drapes the skin of an Auguste Rodin figure, like an eager jacket, over the skeleton of a chair.

Lately however, that chair has taken on a distinctly Danish Modern look, which means that Hunt has intuited what Neil Jenney made explicit, that modern furniture is the Modern Era (the title of his 1971–72 painting of two Bauhaus chairs), and like architecture during the ’70s, it has become the model for sculpture in the ’80s. Hunt is thus pre-Modern and Modern, but in that conjunction not quite contemporary—which is to say, not threatening. For this, too, remembering Henri Matisse’s remark to the effect that art should be as comfortable as an armchair, one can be grateful. Tact, in a way, is Hunt’s strong point. For this particular exhibition, putting all the bronzes on shelves and stacking the pictures against the wall would have been more in keeping with that discretion.

Jeanne Silverthorne