New York

Jonathan Borofsky

Jonathan Borofsky’s gallery-size installation entitled Forms of Nature, is not only allegorical but full of magic. As a chapter heading in the giant book included in this exhibition informs us, Borofsky is a “practicing idealist.” Though the murky figures that populate the gallery look like they just emerged from a bog, searchlights projecting from their foreheads reveal their optimism. In the center of the main gallery a semicircular organ, programmed to play solemn, more or less spiritually uplifting music seems to have raised the simulated boulders that hang by threads in the corners.

It is Borofsky’s marvelous drawings, however, at once surreal and abstract, linear and gestural, dense and quick-witted, that exemplify his vision of a perpetually proliferating labyrinth. Borofsky has always believed in the magic of numbers. They are his signature means of cataloguing his vertiginous dreamscapes. Running into the millions, his counting is clearly part of one grand project that is operatic as a whole but full of chamber music in its details. Here, in the smaller inner room of the gallery, a series of cast aluminum numbers have been realized in shallow relief.

Incorporating surreal mannequinlike figures, seemingly spontaneous, nearly abstract gestures, and language art, Borofsky’s performance-based installation pursues a grand synthesis of Modernist ideas. Intellectually, he is determined to enlist this synthesis in the cause of humankind, threatened by its own somnambulist inhumanity. Borofsky wants an art with a moral purpose, not more masturbatory involution. In fact, he is exteriorizing, what were once hermetic modes. What is marvelous is Borofsky’s lack of embarrassment. Even in one implicitly emotional tableau in which he shows a figure leaning on another for support, there is no sentimentality, only necessity.

It is hard to say whether this exhibition works, though a measure of conceptual and physical disjointedness is clearly intentional, and indeed legitimate given the difficult message. It seems that Borofsky is struggling toclarify his own intentions. His figures are less satirically chatty than previous ones, and on the whole, the tenor of the project is more inward.

With his usual horror vacui, Borofsky fills every bit of the gallery turning the space into a natural history diorama replete with humanoid creatures in the process of spiritual evolution—a little theater of would-be higher life still in obviously lower form. It is not clear that Borofsky’s creatures will survive, let alone evolve into spiritually enlightened ideal beings. This uncertainty may be Borofsky’s real message. His artistic means serve this unconscious moral point more than they do his conscious idealistic wish for a grand Modernist synthesis.

Donald Kuspit