New York

Judith Shea

Curt Marcus Gallery

Judith Shea is one of a key group of younger American artists who have been exploring the humanistic foundations of sculpture, which lie in the figurative tradition, without resorting to either a slavish imitation of or a radical break with the past. In Between Thought and Feeling, 1988, she succeeds in reinvesting the lap, one of the oldest structures in figurative sculpture, with genuine symbolic weight. Here a bronze sculpture of a headless and armless female figure clad in a tight-fitting sheath sits on a large cast-stone cube, and on her lap is a large bronze bust of a man’s head. The poignant look on the face, with its somewhat Hellenistic features, suggests the anguish of death. It recalls the votive figures of the dead in many cultures, shown holding in their laps the part of themselves that it was hoped would survive the end of earthly existence and would pass into a spiritual realm.

Endless Model, 1988, recalls Brancusi’s Endless Column, 1918, in both its form and its title. The familiar zigzag shapes of Brancusi’s sculpture serve as the base for the figure of a female torso shown from the waist down. In reality, the primary source for Brancusi’s abstract totemic form is the archaic female figure on which the folk art patterns that inspired his own compositions were based.

In The Christening, 1987, a bronze figure like the one in Between Thought and Feeling, dressed in the same sort of sheath, stands just behind a marble column that has been sliced in half and placed, horizontally on the floor, the two halves at an oblique angle to each other. At first glance, the work seems a somewhat straight reprise of post-Modernist usage of classical antiquity. However, although the composition is stark, there is an impression of sensuousness produced by the shifting planes and curves of the female figure, a Venus in modern dress, the cut of which evokes the presence of a real woman. Instead of appropriating classicism as a sign denoting the impossibility of originality these days, or as an ironic reference meant to distance the viewer from the substance of the art of classical antiquity, Shea is turning the force of irony on the conventional post-Modernist attitude itself. The broken marble column in The Christening is an apt metaphor for the shattering of the rules implicit in some of the issues dominating the development of much contemporary sculpture.

Ronny Cohen