New York

Alice Aycock

Public Art Fund | Doris C. Freedman Plaza

The first image I ever saw of Alice Aycock’s work was of a small, low building on a Pennsylvania hilltop (Low Building with Dirt Roof, 1973). It was consummately organic, dealing with house form and culture, the body and enclosure, vernacular building and landscape. Aycock was often neatly and accurately described as an environmental artist back then. In the past 14 years, her work has gone through dramatic transformations as her interests have shifted from the relationship of art and environment to more metaphysical issues. In Aycock’s recent work, the notion of environment has expanded to become both microscopic and abstract, concentrating on nonobservable realities.

Her newest project, Threefold Manifestation II, 1987, sponsored by the Public Art Fund Inc., was created for a site in Manhattan near the Fifth Avenue and 60th Street entrance to Central Park (across from the Plaza Hotel), where it was on view for five months. The 32-foot-high steel structure consists of three stepped bowls resembling miniature Roman amphitheaters, vertically stacked and supported by three columns, the whole thing painted brilliant white. Each bowl appears to be formed by the intersection of two “amphitheaters” oriented on different planes. The steps accentuate the depth of each bowl and suggest a sensation of whirling motion. Although the sculpture is frontal, facing south toward the hotel, its character varies when viewed from different directions. Seen from the north, it gives off a sense of closure and stability, while from the east and west its spiral structure seems more pronounced, like a helix of DNA, intensifying the sense it has of potentially infinite development. From all sides the sculpture is dynamic and evocative, suggesting a scientific model of generation and replication. It is a search for order in phenomena where the presence of order is least felt and rarely seen.

There is an air of danger to much of the work that Aycock has produced in the last few years. These sculptures have the appearance of strange devices, elegant yet brutal, with threatening, moving elements that confirm the viewers’ vulnerabilities. Threefold Manifestation II has none of this calculated meanness but retains the compelling tension of the earlier work. Questions are provoked and entertained without suspicion or trepidation, and the intellect, spared from the implication of confrontation, is freed for a reasoned response to the work. The formal precision of the work’s structure, like a scientific model describing natural phenomena, creates a sense of “fictional” order that simplifies the complex underlying issues, but at the same time implies its own inability to comprehend fully the mysteries of existence. Even for those viewers who choose to limit their speculation to issues of form and visual perception, Aycock’s sculpture is a generous gesture to all of the public. It is animating and, fortunately, also a bit wicked.

Reviewed by Patricia C. Phillips.