New York

Stephen Rueckert

Tomoko Liguori Gallery

Stephen Rueckert’s enormous sculpture The Standard Model (Abandoned), 1989, is inspired by particle physics, specifically by the vast accelerators that shatter minute matter, returning it to some essential state. It offers no clue as to what the diminutive components of particle physics might look like, but it operates as a fictive model that implies visually how the contemporary scientific process might operate. In its synthesis of precision and shamanism, Rueckert’s sculpture suggests the complex character of invention—the way in which discovery is both an intellectual quest and an act of voodoo.

At one end of the sculpture, a long, thin, brass trumpet sits on a waist-high I-beam. Its bell nearly touches the first of a series of four display cases, placed end to end like boxcars on a freight train. The legs of the cases rest on parallel tracks embedded in concrete slabs. These separate, adjacent units are an assortment of plausibly related, oddly categorized objects. A relationship is implied by the system, but not confirmed by the things themselves. One case includes half a set of dice, a rock, a vessel encrusted with the remains of some unknown concoction, and a fragile reptilian skeleton sandwiched in a glass box. Another includes castings, bones, metal ribs, and a bellows. One case, whose top is lifted slightly, includes an unlighted candle. This carefully orchestrated chain of containers is virtually shattered in the last case, which includes layers of glass inscribed with the musical score of Bach’s final, unfinished fugue. But the case is smashed; fragments of glass and pieces of twisted metal suggest a violent explosion, as well as the emergence of new forms. Tortured pieces begin to assemble into comprehensible images and seem to expel a rearing stag balanced on a derailed I-beam.

The charging deer in this 40-foot-long assemblage may appear full of potential energy, the embodiment of a great life force, but it is also a bizarre mutant, the surprising conclusion of a new inquiry. The delicate, soundless trumpet that seems to start the process is a far more comforting thing to consider. It offers a less bombastic score for the drama of human creativity, of the great, sometimes dissonant harmonies of the unknown and the inevitable. The piece as a whole captures life’s restless, reeling conditions, but provides no clear mechanism for order. It is a chain reaction that starts and stops unpredictably and that, unlike time, can run in both directions.

––Patricia C. Phillips