New York


This exhibition of recent works by English and German sculptors, assembled under the title “Juxtapositions,” symbolizes and summarizes sculpture’s current revival. The question is whether the revival “advances” sculpture or whether, as I believe, it articulates the peculiarly strained and uncertain condition of the contemporary sculptural impulse. The methods used to make these works—based on the familiarly Modernist impulses of building, of collecting or scavenging, and of shaping a new nature (the neo-organic)—are already a sign of post-Modernist weariness. Their makers have simply combined these component impulses in different ways, with different degrees of emphasis on each one. To what effect? This is where the sculptural (and post-Modernist) “experiment” lies, and, I think, comes off ambiguously, for the poetic content generated seems peculiarly stillborn. The works here are perfectly formed but for the most part expressively inert. Perhaps it would be more just to say that they’re in search of a new expressivity. This hardly makes them “transgressive”—the overused peg that assistant curator Joshua Decter hangs them on. If the sculptures depend on “transgression” for their kick, they are indeed all too worldly-wise for their own good.

Thomas Schütte builds a kind of faux, stripped down architecture, and Bill Woodrow gathers everyday objects into quasi-monumental constructions. On close reading, the text of the works of both artists dissolves into incoherence. Reiner Ruthenbeck also collects things, thematizing their singularity. Tony Cragg arranges his objects ritualistically, sometimes totemically. Isa Genzken mounts sections of architectural concrete fragments on simple metal stands, like laboratory specimens. Richard Deacon’s grand curvilinear structures suggest strange self-formative creatures. Anish Kapoor creates groups of “minimalist” objects with an abstract-organic look, as if they had been grown in a hothouse. For me, the works with the most expressive potential were Kapoor’s—the one shown here was Dark, 1987—and Harald Klingelhöller’s, the latter an arrangement of geometrical objects entitled Die Wiese lacht oder das Gesicht in der Wand (The meadow laughs or the face in the wall, 1985). There is an interplay among Klingelhöller’s dense plaster spheres, narrow pyramids built of brick, and a curving “balustrade” of mirror-covered wooden slats, in what seems a distant echo of the Cézannean idea of treating nature in terms of the cylinder, the sphere, and the cone. But no illusion of natural order emerges from the interplay, only a broken poetic rhythm. The sense of abrupt yet tangential relationships creates a Webern-like three-dimensional music, of indeterminate expressive effect. It may be that this indeterminacy is the expressive effect.

Klingelhöller almost succeeds at doing what all the artists seem to want to do, what seems the path to the new expressivity: generate a sense of implicit inarticulateness in overtly well-articulated structures or organizations of objects. The sculptures here are like tableaux waiting for the divine spark to give them expressive meaning. They are fraught with promise, but their waiting is part of their abortiveness.

Donald Kuspit