New York

John Duff


John Duff continues to extend his command of fiberglass into new areas of undomesticated experience. This exhibition consisted of 12 wall pieces, each of which seamlessly combines imaginative shapes, specific textures, density of matter, and precise, evocative color. Although the structures of the shapes derive partly from conceptualized units such as the double helix, the pieces are never mimetic, iconic, or expressionistic. By rejecting these heavily inscribed perceptual categories as a place in which to locate the work, Duff is able to invent sculptural objects that achieve and preserve a calm sensuous presence. By placing these presences against the wall in a quietly aggressive manner, he negates our ability to read them as decorative objects. Consequently, Duff’s sculptures must be read as “actual” facts, rather than as illustrations or commentaries. They cannot be included within such categories as abstraction, realism, and the currently fashionable hybrid combination of abstraction and representation. They also skillfully avoid the tendency toward facile “post-Modernism,” which has devolved into a process of recycling and reconnecting styles, shapes, forms, signs, and images, rather than an attempt to undermine the heavily inscribed systems of perception we use to know, and interact with, the world.

Duff’s sculptures actively engage by their texture, color, light, and the way they occupy, or unfold in, space. Like certain kinds of complex facts, particularly those encountered in the sciences, they challenge reductive thinking. The sculptures embody “realities” which have a tenuous connection to the realm of imagination and memory. The translucent matter of certain pieces seemed to be simultaneously organic and artificial. Although these affinities give us a way into the work, the sculptures eventually undermine these categories of perception, replacing them with their overall presence. Clearly, Duff has connected the process of making each piece with his desire to go beyond what he already knows.

Duff’s development is unparalleled and unexpected. Instead of engaging in Minimalism’s literal use of materials, he transforms presence into “actual” fact. In doing so, he transcends the field of language by Minimalist sculptors and their apologists to encode and define perception. Duff makes work that exists in a realm critical discourse has yet to appropriate and systematize.

John Yau