New York

Sally Etta Sheinfeld

Rastovski Gallery

In his book The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment, Reyner Banham writes about the improvements—esthetic, functional, and psychological—that electrical illumination brought to the workplace and domestic environment. Before the inventions of Thomas Edison, he argues, the life of the interior was dim, grim, and dirty. In her recent series of projects, Sally Etta Sheinfeld has chosen to focus on the object of illumination—the bulb. She explores both the functional and formal aspects of the light bulb, as well as the level of expectation that this object engenders.

Pochoir (Grid, 1987) consists of 64 green bulbs, arranged in eight rows of eight, on a wood and corrugated cardboard base. The perfect, translucent green spheres form a dense, allover pattern. Their thin cylindrical bases are set into socketlike depressions in the larger armature. The other six pieces here are from the artist’s “Pochade” (Random placement) series, 1988. These identically sized studies explore more random, layered, and complex configurations of form and implied light than the earlier piece. The essence, if not the reality, of illumination is conveyed through plays on transparency, reflection, and actual and painted shadow.

Pochade #9 features three bulbs—two floodlights and a standard tungsten bulb—mounted on a mirrored Plexiglas plane. A peculiar confusion arises between the cast reflections of the bulbs and the flat gray “shadows” (in the shape of bulbs) painted on the mirrored surface. The actual reflections change position and configuration with the viewer’s movement, while the painted shadows issuing in different directions from the base of the bulbs are fast and fixed. If this project offers a moderate course between illusion and confusion, two other pieces in this series propose more extreme alternatives. Pochade #18 is divided into equal-sized quadrants of orange, blue, green, and purple Plexiglas, with a small yellow bulb placed in the center of each section. Here, the bulbs simply form a sculptural, chromatic object, whose function is obscure. But in Pochade #8, Sheinfeld moves from flatness and literalness to depth and dimensionality. On a cardboard surface over a wooden armature, she places two rectangles, one covered in clear Plexiglas, the other in mirrored Plexiglas. The transparent piece, which holds three randomly arranged bulbs, reveals the base of each fixture as well as the structure beneath them. The mirrored piece holds a large reflector bulb in its center. By juxtaposing sculptural and illusionistic strategies, Sheinfeld evokes the many qualities and characteristics of illumination—the ways in which light reveals or obscures, probes or eclipses, articulates or diffuses space and surface.

Patricia C. Phillips