New York

Lawrence Carroll

57 STUX + Haller Gallery

Lawrence Carroll is a major new presence in sculpture. It would be easy to classify his work as expressive minimalism, in that his ostensibly simple geometrical constructions are given subtly textured surfaces. (The texturing is so subtle that the works seem simultaneously refined and raw.) In some pieces the structure is seamed and collaged, in others a small section of it is removed to reveal an interior emptiness. The way that emptiness is glassed in leads us to expect to see the relic of a saint, but there is none. The works tend to the monumental, as in The Words Aren’t Mine and No Patience for the Past (all works, 1989), but there are many smaller pieces, equally intense and studied. All the works have an aura of elegant mystery, intimate but unnamable. They have an archeological look, and seem painted with an unspecifiable, memorable past. They are decidedly uncanny objects, not only because they easily straddle that great Modernist divide between the object and the art object, but because their presence seems loaded with an unspeakable absence. Indeed, the pieces are quietly intimidating because of this emptiness.

“Profound” is an overused and abused word, but these works are profound, because they open new art historical territory without denying their allegiance to tradition, and because they return us to a sense of the inchoate and inarticulate without losing their specificity. By comparison, Donald Judd’s specific objects look all too genera—facilely universal. The unevenness of Carroll’s painterly surface, which generally tends to density but also shows much delicacy, makes for a gestural fragility that contradicts the geometrical sturdiness and declarativeness of the structure, creating a tension that is the gist of specificity.

Works such as Cloud and Farewell to the Sky suggest, if only by their titles, a romantic inclination, but their esthetic of containment indicates control. Carroll’s sculptures present themselves more as objects to commune with than to contemplate. One can take them as sections of what André Breton called “Leonardo’s famous paranoic wall,” in which the artist can hallucinate objects and scenes, even cosmic visions, which seem bizarrely precise in detail. A similar sense of irreality pervades these works, which are physical sites in themselves, as well as metaphorical, psychic sites. What is striking about these works technically is that they reconcile the constructivist and expressionist traditions of making, without overstating either, but also without giving up their discrepancies. Indeed, incongruity is built into them and fetishized. In the end, Carroll’s works, through their seams and patched-up look, seem to play on these differences, adding to their overall peculiar appearance of absurdity.

Donald Kuspit