New York

Donald Lipski

Danforth Museum of Art

Donald Lipski takes industrial salvage material and creates unique neo-dada sculpture. He finds artifacts in junk stores, dumpsters, and military supply rooms, employing a surreal logic in his clever mating of them. This exhibition, consisting of two distinctly separate installations of recent work, showed Lipski to be adept at tempering the coolness of minimalist form with poetic irony and a sense of humor. Steel wool and industrial waste tubing were the featured materials here. In one group of works, industrial components—a rubber high-pressure hose, aluminum fan blade, saw, or inner tube—define the hard-edged forms, while steel wool masks and nullifies their utilitarian capacities. These steel-wrapped sculptures are simultaneously soft and hard, inviting and dangerous—their sharp fibers can cut deeply. Steel Belted Radial, 1989, consists of an inner tube that has been meticulously wrapped in steel wool and bound with six leather straps. The lightweight tube doubles as a ponderous cushion. Ivan’s, 1989, a rusty cross-cut saw whose teeth are impeccably wrapped in steel wool, is no longer useful as a tool, but becomes a horrific decorative item. Lipski’s saw combine implies a new twist on Man Ray’s black-humored Cadeau (Gift, 1921), an iron to which the artist attached carpet tacks, turning a household object into a source of destruction. Lipski drapes skeins of steel wool over a six-pronged aluminum fan in Untitled, 1989. The tinted red blades are exposed through the weave, suggesting a potential for malevolence. Red Hook, 1989, a great steel-wool isosceles triangle hanging from a large red hook, is the most imposing object in this installation. More than eight feet high, its skeletal structure—made from a rubber high-pressure hose, brass fittings, copper tubing, and PVC pipe—are camouflaged by layers of braided steel wool, creating a visual effect of solidity and depth. Three leather straps bind the free-form steel wool, recalling the work of Robert Morris.

In the other room here was Water Lilies, 1989, an ingenious installation composed of a field of 19 individual glass modules filled with water and floating found objects. Lipski placed objects underwater and magnified the distortions through curved glass, creating new, ephemeral impressions. The glass tubing, variously joined as lozenge shapes, Y’s, T’s, arrows, and squares, contained benign and symbolic mementos, ranging from rubber bands, yellow plastic balls, broom bristles, and toothpicks to parachute bits, missile batteries, a telephone, and surgical stomach tubes. In certain pieces, Lipski mixed bleach with the water and allows further distortions to occur over time. In a container housing a baseball mitt, the leather glove bled brown tones into the surrounding fluid and softened into an apparition of a macabre organic specimen. The artist also encased in sleek glass a frightening collection of bloodied IV tubing left over from his father’s fatal illness; juxtaposed with these poignant artifacts were collections of dice immersed in water, implying chance and fate. Taken separately, the images in Water Lilies were both beautiful and repellant. As a group they were effective because Lipski remains attached to the formal aspects of his objects, while letting the viewer discover personal meanings in them.

Francine A. Koslow