Purchase

David von Schlegell

Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College

David von Schlegell makes sculptures in a monumental Minimalist vein. It seems as though every known code of contrast is used, including square and triangle (Dead Reckoning, 1988), thick and thin (Moth, 1987), wood and steel (Relic, 1987), hand-carved and machine-produced (Orient, 1986–87), and so on, with many works multiclassifiable. In a sense, the sculpture’s “sublime” character is in its combinatorics—the sense of potentially infinite permutation, a spreading plot in which each work is implicated in the other.

Every sculpture in this exhibition takes as its basis a square, whose flatness is maintained but accented and commented on, as it were, by attached contrary elements. The resulting effect is sometimes decidedly irrational, sometimes only whimsically odd. One might think this implies that Von Schlegell’s neo-Suprematist sculpture has a certain academic cleverness to it: stripped of its Malevichean mystical connotations, the square is manipulated with a systematic playfulness. But something else is articulated by Von Schlegell’s sculptures: the sense of the oneness of the rational and irrational. The works can be understood as the products of rational manipulation—constructivist engineering—and/or disruptive irrationality.

The naturalistic titles of some of the works—as in the case of Bloom, 1988, a square piece of dark lead in a light poplar frame, supported by a diagonal steel beam and capped by a little ornamental flourish—only hinders their success. Titles, after all, condition our perception and in a sense facilitate it, sometimes even predetermining it. In abstract sculpture, even of Von Schlegell’s “impure” sort for it is almost as pictorial as it is sculptural—these kinds of titles are more distracting than illuminating, and hark back to an attitude (Calder is exemplary of it) that thought abstraction, especially geometrical abstraction, was redeemed when it was poetically allusive, even mock illustrative. Parsee, 1986–87, is an example of a work that all too obviously wants to make a figural point—a work whose title cancels out its abstract elusiveness.

Donald Kuspit