New York

Lea Copers

Jack Shainman Gallery

On walking into a room full of Leo Copers’ whirring, ringing, beating, and humming sculptures, one immediately feels de trop, in the way, an intruder among a collection of autonomous, hermetic objects. Copers, a midcareer Belgian artist who has had little exposure here, often makes works that keep viewers at bay via the use of various threatening elements—knives, nooses, machine guns, lightbulbs immersed in water. But his pieces also betray a playful element, and in his show here, with its spook-house flying tablecloth and idling motors, this element prevails, though the works remain conceptually aloof.

Copers specializes in unlikely juxtapositions and changing physical states; in Little Turningtable, 1989, the work’s draped cloth is now still, now twirling like a young girl’s skirt. Safe, 1989, nothing more than a locked safe, suggests impenetrable mystery; in YRNOMLICE, 1988, a border of nonsense words surrounds a fractured mirror: we cannot decipher the text, nor· can we clearly see ourselves. Capers does make more specific political and social comments in certain works: Bloodbanner, 1979, a flag stained with the artist’s own blood, links patriotism with human sacrifice; in Chandelier, 1988, a lighting fixture hangs sideways off a wall in an amusing poke at conventional domesticity. Usually, however, these works can be read on several levels at once: the chandelier also magically refutes “normal” physical laws (gravity), and its imitation candle-flame lightbulbs reflect Copers’ interest in conflating the genuine and the artificial. Motor with a Golden Shaft, 1989, an unassuming machine whirring away on the floor like an abandoned vacuum cleaner, plays with our preconceptions about objects and about art, reminding us how dependent we are on specific contexts (gallery, home, machine shop) for meaning.

Copers has no interest in explaining his irrational and uncanny uses of ordinary objects and familiar symbols. His sculptures are like the demonstrations seen in high-school science films: carefully orchestrated performances of physical phenomena—only they don’t demonstrate anything certain or even identifiable, and, as often as not, they do exactly what we don’t expect. Copers is absorbed with the possibilities and limitations of matter, of objects and of human understanding. Seemingly no concept, process, or situation, from bourgeois parlor life to meteorological phenomena, is safe from his antic imagination.

Lois E. Nesbitt