New York

Connie Beckley

Farideh Cadot Gallery

Though Connie Beckley is best known for her unique mixture of experimental music and performance art, the sculptures and watercolors exhibited here hold their own on a purely visual level.

These new sculptures evidence her canny ability to incorporate properties she finds in music into palpably accessible visual form. Beckley characterizes her recent sculptures as “strained harmonies,” and indeed they evidence her preoccupation with articulating a dialectic between harmony and dissonance. Of Into and Was and Battlehymn, both 1988, relate overtly to music, and serve as a segue between Beckley’s musical and sculptural concerns. Both are from the artist’s “War and Music” series, and both propose a relationship between harmony and violence. In Of Into and Was, an organ pipe pinned to the wall by flat, wooden boards points upward like a missile. Beckley has altered the look of the pipe just enough to clash with its function as a musical instrument. Battlehymn consists of a metal rod drawn back like an arrow, against long wooden bowlike bands. This shape resembles both a medieval musical notation and a weapon. In each of these works, Beckley creates a synthesis of formal and symbolic opposites.

Beckley’s sculptures are full of pent-up energy. In Wheel at the Cistern, 1989, oval metal bands are interrupted in two places by compressed volumes of books. Clamped tightly in place with their titles blotted out, the books are utterly inaccessible. Beckley has draped black silk over the lower part of the wheel, turning the piece into a cryptic allegory of dysfunction. In Telescope, 1988, a work in which a dense stack of glass panes is held tightly together by a vise, function has again been thwarted. The glass serves not as a lens, but ironically as a mirror, incorporating the viewer’s reflection into this image of perpetual conflict. The Passenger, 1990, the most subtle sculpture in this show, consists of a light bulb hung behind a fragmented stone bound by wire. The light from the bulb is transformed into a point of red visible from the front. The bound stone resembles a torso, a rare figurative allusion that seems to have evolved naturally.

Five watercolor studies of a light bulb draped with material suggest studies from Leonardo da Vinci’s celebrated notebooks. Carefully recording the effects of light on cascading drapery, each study focuses on the point of greatest tension between cloth and light bulb, where the fabric defines the light bulb’s contour. The series is accompanied by a relief made of Plexiglas and silk, underscoring Beckley’s penchant for the palpable. These watercolors, together with the sculptures, reveal Beckley’s ability to mine the formal and symbolic possibilities of everyday materials and objects.

Jenifer P. Borum