New York

Greg Colson

Sperone Westwater

At first sight Greg Colson’s sculptures look like yet another instance of the currently stylish approach that someone dubbed “stonewashed Minimalism.” His objects—made of lunch boxes, inner tubes, and scrap boards that are chipped, rusted, dented, and faded—bear conspicuous signs of aging and decrepitude. But upon closer inspection Colson’s work reveals delicate intrusions that seem to be at the core of his concerns. Various ordering systems are inscribed on the distressed surfaces of his found objects, in an apparent effort to control or deny the entropic forces of time. In Newark, 1989, an unlabeled street map is printed on old boards, the irregular configuration of routes competing with the background pattern of the woodgrain. In North Platte, 1989, street names of an unidentified city are inscribed on a latticework of wood and metal strips. The seating plan of a stadium is recreated in tiny carbon-paper rectangles in Wrigley Field, 1989, and in Dignified Suit, 1989, clothing-pattern pieces are spread across old metal boxes. One of the most successful works is Organized Knowledge, 1989. It transfers a verbal system—the Dewey decimal categorization system used in libraries—onto an old ironing board. The juxtaposition of earnest rubrics such as “General Works,” “Useful Arts,” and “Fine Arts” with the stained surface of this lowliest of domestic items is both poignant and humorous.

Although the apparent desire to establish order over chaos is evident in the works, the established orders remain for the most part opaque or at least unserviceable. Of what use is a meticulously reconstructed plan of a stadium or an unlabeled street map? The arcane language of the suit pattern (with parts labeled “trunk hose” and “front jerkin lining”) renders the forms inaccessible; the order behind the tiny, apparently randomly numbered scraps of paper clustered in Exploded St. Louis, 1986, remains mysterious. Furthermore, Colson’s selection of systems, especially recurrent ones like the stadium plans, seems arbitrary or, at best, highly personal.

The artist’s obsession with plans and patterns—prescriptions for making things—implies an interest in construction. In pieces like Land Usage, 1989, and the striking, art-historically tongue-in-cheek Black Painting with Three Panels, 1989, an homage to Kasimir Malevich that makes literal use of the notion of “constructivism,” Colson realizes this will to build, creating three-dimensional metal and wood armatures that project out into space. But true to the spirit of the other works, these constructions are mere scaffoldings, skeletons of buildings, and as such remain as devoid of function as fragmentary maps of unknown places.

Lois E. Nesbitt