New York

Saint-Clair Cemin

Daniel Newburg Gallery

Saint-Clair Cemin’s sculpture has an unsettling way of not quite meeting one’s expectation, and the odd assortment of work he exhibited seemed to reside firmly in the gray regions of subjectivity. While the past century’s artistic invention managed to expand the boundaries of art to the doorstep of infinity, the lofty perspective of the avant-garde vision is itself riddled with blind spots. Cemin’s sculpture does not try to transcend the history of its medium, but works toward marking the structural holes in the established models of creation and esthetic analysis. What is significant in these efforts, and distinguishes them from the vast body of contemporary art that merely occupies the meaningless unfilled slots of infinite variation, is the deliberate attention they attract toward the phenomenological discrepancies that arise in objects that assume ambiguous cultural roles.

Like other contemporary stylistic hybrids, the novelty of Cemin’s sculpture is recombinative. Cemin, however, does not suffer the eclecticism of confusion but manifests a deliberate Post-Modern pastiche of colliding traditions. The effect is achieved by synthesizing objects that are incompatible in terms of their cultural status rather than stylistically. Cemin does not pursue the established programs of esthetic counterpoint, but mixes unmatchable metaphors to ridiculous ends. Forms that indicate function will be suddenly and absurdly stripped of practical and esthetic virtues. A kettle, for example, is rendered as a clunky, unmanageably heavy solid-bronze miscarriage of found object and modern design that is too obtuse to work as art, craft, design, or utensil. Cemin also plays games with the semantic and decorative boundaries of furniture. With the same sort of defiance of purpose, his furniture is catastrophically unusable in the home and yet too perversely burdened with the gratuitous elements of mundane function and overstated decor to be taken seriously as art. Through each vulgar blunder in scale, materials, form, and function, Cemin’s failed objects extend our boundaries between the common object, design, and fine art until the lines intersect at the coordinates of our blind faith in cultural hierarchy.

The theoretical point of diminished cultural barriers and deconstructed codes of relative value is too ambiguous to allow Cemin the certainty of any conclusive position. To avoid the option of fixed identity, this work embraces all its potential multiplicities. The poetic unknown Cemin evokes is a dimension of articulated faith he finds in the balance of academic investigation with visionary imagination. The sculpture is an artifact turned into kitsch through its schizophrenic charade as a status symbol of inspiration, immortality, wealth, and conspicuous consumption, a conceptual equivalent of art’s commodified preciousness. The ambivalence of Cemin’s self-consciously awkward expressions, however, goes deeper than the irony of market and media criticism that much contemporary art seems fated to suffocate in. Cemin’s sculpture has a sort of painful insecurity that is pure seduction. Like ugly ducklings with vulnerability and loneliness as the noblest of distinctions, gracelessness is their grace, and the pathos of their futility is the heroism of their martyrdom.

Carlo McCormick