New York

Gilberto Zorio

Sonnabend Gallery

Gilberto Zorio's elegantly awkward “suspension” sculptures aren’t the mute, static objects they seem to be. They not only span gallery space—bridging and binding floor, wall, and ceiling—but, at seven-minute intervals, sound off, filling the space with some perturbed cross between noise and music. The pieces are usually made of copper and steel pipes feeding into vessels of water (aqua vitae?); they are occasionally animated by blasts of air generated by small compressors. At the moment of boiling, sound issues from hidden whistles and harmonicas: the sculpture is energized, indeed, it really starts to “jump.” All this elementary mechanical effort to generate a primitive effect!

The pieces make use of prosaic materials in a poetic, typically arte povera way. But they are rich with iconopoetic connotations that extend beyond the material. In Canoa (Canoe, 1988 ), an elongated canoe—long nose and broken back—is positioned above a giant star which lies flat on the floor, seemingly made of dried molten material. One of its five points is broken and bent upwards; with its tubular/vascular attachments, it reaches toward several equally prosthetic devices on the canoe. Another star, made of tubes—Stella di Marzio (Marzio star, 1987)—spears an inert, man-made, vaguely Modernist object with one of its points. In these works, sculpture has not only been extended into the environment, it actually becomes environment, psychic as well as physical. Zorio carries Modernist “cage” sculpture to the limit; the sculpture not only seems more space than material, but the material diffuses into space. The emaciated, manic limbs seem to belong to some invisible spatial “presence.” The real poetic magic of Zorio’s sculpture is that it seems to give space life, as well as show it to be autonomous and monumental (but never heavy). The apparent flexibility of the material, as well as the work as a whole, seems to do this—adumbrate space rather than fill it. The sculpture is built by accretion, but it never adds up to anything sufficiently dense to displace space. Sculpture usually wants to create fullness where there was emptiness, but Zorio trusts emptiness to have its own peculiar, hidden fullness.

Zorio’s sculptures have been said to belong in alchemic laboratories, and to have the apocalyptic look of booby traps. There is no doubt some truth in this mock-scientific, enigmatic look. However, the works also manipulate conventional symbols, as the star pieces suggest. They breathe new life into old idealistic forms by realizing them with industrial materials, and above all by animating them through mechanical devices. The seven-minute intervals—that lucky number—at which they sound off suggests a widely spaced heartbeat. Zorio’s sculptures are strange creatures, hybrids of ancient hopes and contemporary materials. Their skeletal condition suggests that they are still evolving, if on an archaic fundament. Zorio demonstrates that art objects can be something more than singular forms available for contemplation; they can hint at new kinds of life, in response to the ever greater threat against it.

Donald Kuspit