Grenville Davey

This exhibition of sculpture by Grenville Davey was a remarkably assured show from one so recently out of college. The works not only demonstrated considerable integrity but also commanded the gallery space in a way rarely encountered in the more recent manifestations of British sculpture. The exhibition consisted of five works, all related in some way to forms of industrial fixtures and fittings. Cover, 1986–87, for example, is a rusted steel manhole cover, apparently ringed with bolts, placed directly on the floor. Its figurative aspects, together with its well-crafted appearance, inevitably cause us to recall its industrial origins, but its overriding impact lies in the way it reworks the questions of presence first raised by Minimalism. Each of the five works, although visibly related to some fixture (a wall light, a railing, etc.) is a piece of sculpture that is essentially removed from its model, both in referential terms and in the physical sense of its placement in the gallery. Davey's forebears seem to be Donald Judd and Carl Andre rather than temporally and culturally closer appropriators of urban artifacts such as Tony Cragg and Bill Woodrow.

Untitled Pair, 1987, consists of a pair of blue-painted spun-steel disks, which were placed at differing heights on adjacent walls. Both pointed downward, at angles that required the viewer to move around the gallery space in quite unorthodox ways in order to see them properly. More direct is another two-part piece, Seal, 1987, which consists of two spun-steel domes reminiscent of factory wall lights, again attached to adjacent walls. One is painted white, the other a rust color, anti their placement across the width of the gallery controlled the spatial dimensions of the work with great clarity.

These three were the best works in the show, although this may have been partly due to their installation in the better rooms of the gallery. The other two works occupied a small, dark, stone-floored lower room, a space that is harder to activate than the wooden warmth of the upper galleries. Gray Seal, 1987, is a gray-painted spun-steel dome surrounded by a rubber-sealed ring of tubular steel. At one point on its circuit the tube loops in toward the central point of tile dome, providing a kind of spring-clip effect that keeps the whole thing hermetically fastened to the floor and creating strong narrative allusions that lessen its impact.

What is most interesting about Davey's work is the acknowledgment it makes of Minimalism's straightforwardness. It invites the kind of phenomenological reading—an evaluation through descriptive analysis—that is perhaps best represented by Judd's writing on Barnett Newman. When the work slips from this it becomes weak. The fifth piece, Rail, 1987, was a round-cornered trapezoid of galvanized industrial railing held off the wall by sections of the same rubber-sealed steel tubing, with a white-painted metal annulus welded between the top and bottom edges. Set off by the exact roundness of the annulus, the gentle tapering of the trapezoid toward the left side plays illusionistic games of perspective and depth, and again it is these intimations of narrative that obscure the direct view of its sculptural presence.

Michael Archer