New York

Augusta Talbot

Vanderwoude Tananbaum Gallery

For those brave enough to take the artist up on it, this show offered a fascinating way through what one might term the psychic jungle of the human mind. The kind of artist who seems to know how to unlock the hidden secrets of this mysterious place, Talbot produced a group of sculptures that could be called “tough:” but in the best sense of this by-now-overused term. Including both free-standing and relief examples, the sculptures had the unrelenting quality of a silent scream. Staged as much as composed, they continued the centuries-old popular form of the constructed tableau used for symbolic story-telling in a number of cultures. In each sculpture a different situation fraught with provocative psychological aspects was depicted using figures and a setting made from a variety of materials, including found objects.

In several examples, the featured motif was a house in the form of an open cage, a motif that of course suggested the work of Alberto Giacometti. But however much Surrealism entered into the experience of these pieces, the reference was finally driven out, exorcised by the startling directness of the sculptures themselves, which forced the viewer to regard them in the here and now of the one-to-one encounter.

At the source of their riveting appeal lay Talbot’s singular approach toward form and content, which was strikingly evident in Watching Her Prey 1986. This sculpture consists of an enigmatic scene in which a smaller figure wrapped like a mummy is propped against the top of an open-walled box placed inside a house, also with open walls; from each of the four supporting beams of the house a string extends outward to a chair. Each of the chairs is empty, with the seat facing away from the house. Between two of the chairs stands another figure in white and in a contemplative pose, “watching her prey” Though sparse, the scene is entrancingly specific. The cool, matter-of-fact treatment of such a strange situation makes it seem real on a psychological level. At the same time, it’s abstract and suggestive enough to pique the imagination and provoke thought about archetypal associations.

Ronny Cohen