San Francisco

René de Guzman

Terrain

Reiterating the critical gambit of Robert Smithson’s celebrated “nonsites,” René de Guzman fills Plexiglas boxes with organic material including fluids, hair, dried sponges and weeds. De Guzman views his handling of solid geometry as a critical invasion of the theoretically inviolate interior spaces of Minimal sculpture. Both artists redress the Minimalist legacy, yet they play the gambit in very disparate emotional keys.

The decorative and elegiac quality of de Guzman’s objects would have been anathema to Smithson. Where Smithson wanted to purge sculpture of its residual human reference and humanistic content, de Guzman clouds and scratches the inside surfaces of his Plexiglas boxes so our attention is teasingly drawn to their interiors. Seen through his muzzy plastic, the material tends to resemble internal tissue—lobes of brain or lung.

In Catalogue (all works 1989), boxes of various sizes and shapes were presented, flush against the wall, on small steel shelves. Rhythms set up by the varying dimensions of the containers recall the jumpy play of rectangles in works of Constructivist inspiration by artists such as Georges Vantongerloo and Burgoyne Diller.

De Guzman’s sculpture turns sentimental in a piece like Rose Petal Duet, which consists of two comestible-looking blocks made of compressed rose petals, displayed on small steel shelves. More convincing is a five-and-a-half-foot stack of Plexiglas boxes entitled Notations, which does not seem to depend upon the critical pretext of de-idealizing Minimal geometry. Bracketed to the wall, the boxes get wider and shallower from bottom to top. Each contains a miniature terrain of hardened molten lead splatters, sprinkled here and there with a few locks of hair. Presented like specimens, the inorganic splashes have the visceral impact of congealed tears or blood. Notations verges on sentimentality, but it does so materially, not referentially, so its emotional strangeness has the air of a real discovery. Unlike rose petals, molten metal is not already invested with lyrical associations.

De Guzman’s show sounded a distinct voice in the increasingly ubiquitous idiom of found-object sculpture.

Kenneth Baker