Chicago

Donald Lipski

Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Donald Lipski’s sculptures are acts of reclamation, reprieves for objects contemporary culture usually overlooks or discards. His art makes use of the very things believed to be beyond redemption: the mass-produced, machine-tooled effluvia of rust-zone America, objects that, once divorced from their original functions, are empty and forgotten. Lipski collects, buys, and stores away this stuff—pitchforks, fire extinguisher foam nozzles, chunks of fiberglass, saw blades, chalkboards, mooring buoys, operating room lights, dice, pipettes, steel shot, and more. The objects are saved for that moment when bit by bit, singly and doubly, they are to be brought together into a simple but stark relationship with each other, urged toward poetic and canny fusions that take meaning not merely from their juxtaposition, but from their reconciliation.

This act of hybridization is neither accidental nor arbitrary. Lipski has a keen sense of the resonances that lie within his seemingly exhausted components, and of how this process of transmutation can lead to the objects’ reinvigoration. In The Ether, 1988, a large whitewashed American flag, sagging from its own age and weight, unfurls again in mock heroism over the intrusive presence of an ominous cyclopean operating room light. Its title refers to the atmosphere surrounding this altered symbol of patriotism as well as to anesthesia. The resulting construction speaks of an uneasy surveillance and evokes an odd and sinister meshing of tradition and technology, a threatening mix of rhetoric and reality that is both simple and ample at the same moment.

The degree of Lipski’s active intervention among the elements in his sculptures varies from work to work; in most of the 15 pieces on view here, his involvement goes beyond additive manipulation. Tight wrapping is a preferred tactic, with straps, belts, tape, wax, or plastic wrap much in evidence. These objects are often bound, but never gagged; in two sculptures that feature a laborious and detailed wrapping and rewrapping of saws with tape, Lipski leaves the blades’ teeth exposed, their functions fundamentally unaltered. The saws seem more menacing than when Lipski first encountered them, as their bindings do not mask, but emphasize their potential for violence.

Lipski uses water in several sculptures and builds three pieces around chalkboards bearing accumulated scrawled notations, pointing to his interest in ephemerality, as well as manipulation. The water will evaporate and the chalk marks may eventually be erased, lending a poignant character to these pieces, a sense of fragility, as if they themselves can now become the objects Lipski will someday retrieve.

James Yood