New York

Jane Rosen

Grace Borgenicht

The wall sculpture that Jane Rosen exhibited last year displayed a certain kinship with Gregory Amenoff’s paintings. Each of these artists used a vocabulary of biomorphic abstraction to evoke a self-reflexive vision of nature’s forces and processes. In Rosen’s case, the cocoonlike forms seemed to be intended as metaphorical surrogates of women’s collective body, which is linked with nature because both are sites of creation. In addition to the cocoonlike wall pieces, that exhibition also included three freestanding bird effigies.

In her most recent work, shown here in an exhibition entitled “Oak Island Studies,” Rosen has further explored the metaphorical possibilities embedded within a vocabulary derived from the observation of birds in natural history museums and in the world. The exhibition consisted of seven sculptures and three works on paper, all 1987; five of the sculptures, all of them birds, are freestanding. Rosen’s process is to layer gypsum cement, marble dust, and pigment over a plaster mold or a wood form. In making Egyptian Hawk, she ground down and sanded back through successive layers, creating a mottled surface that parallels the effects of time and weather. In Father (for Mei), 1987, Rosen built up a smeared, textured surface. The bird’s small, knoblike head, which seems to have retracted into its tapered body, conveys both sternness and introspection, strength and frailty, all of it slightly comic in tone.

The change in Rosen’s work is a significant one. The cocoonlike forms were flawed by her desire to represent certain universal themes, which made them overly generalized and a bit bombastic. The bird effigies are altogether different. Through keen observation and a tactile sense of physical process, Rosen attempts to capture the resonant essence of each bird’s form and gesture. It is an empathic approach, by which she hopes to clarify for herself how she sees and experiences the world; in turn, the sculptures should function as speculative sites for the viewer. In the strongest pieces the bird has the presence of a character with an indelible personality. There is something grotesquely comical in the strut of Night Heron, for example, that comes out of Rosen’s understanding of human vanity. This is accomplished without resorting to either anecdote or narrative.

One can argue that Rosen is a “primitive,” and that her approach to art lacks both post-Modern irony and Modernism’s all-encompassing grandeur. However, by abandoning “universal” themes and the sources that inspired them—such as the work of Alberto Giacometti, especially in its popular, simplistic interpretation as an embodiment of "existentialism”—she has avoided the very thing that weakened her earlier work.

John Yau