Edward Allington

Coincident with Edward Allington’s show, a Tate Gallery survey of early-20th-century responses to Mediterranean antiquity, entitled “On Classic Ground,” mapped three paths across that ground: nostalgic-melancholic (Metaphysical painting), Modernist (Cubism-Purism), and Dionysian (Surrealism). Implicitly, Allington has declared for the last of these. His earlier cornucopias and Pandora’s boxes seethed with the ravishing trash of cheap hallucination: Ovid metamorphosing in kitsch. Then came a beautiful bronze series of combined classical ornamental motifs. Like the English architect John Outram, Allington seemed to want to reanimate an oneiric life that slumbered in museum vaults; these copulating forms looked like what urns, volutes, and acroteria get up to after dark. This modern dionysian makes a burlesque of fragments, in which the classical body cracks up with laughter as much as with terror.

As a sculptor, Allington has faced the consequences of the nonavailability of that body. His cornucopias were metaphors that played with an alarming degree of likeableness, while his earlier Ideal Standard Forms, 1980, programed a theme of discrete metaphysical fragments through the format of serial Minimalism. Between these two poles, Allington has sought to endow dumb objects with the pathos and presence of the tragicomic actor, as if the stage set and the mask conspired to mime a compound figure in the actor’s absence. That such figures are brazenly inauthentic matters not; if these things are actors with stage presence (the theatrical presence charged at Minimalism in Michael Fried’s “Art & Objecthood”), then they have learned Bertolt Brecht’s “Alienation Effect,” the kind of oxymoron that can make plastic fantastic and gorgeousness trash.

Two remarks of Pablo Picasso and Nietzsche, “Art is a lie that makes us see the truth,” and “We have art in order not to die of life,” both hold here so long as truth is not confused with nature, nor art with beauty. In this sense, Allington’s recourse upon classic ground is the opposite of Constantin Brancusi’s, as is especially evident in the architectural series seen here. Brancusi’s was a self- identification with “the essence of things,” an “absolute equity” and simplicity come upon “by entering into the real sense of things” that led him in his quest for the classical back to the columns and carpentry of his childhood Romania. Allington, on the other hand, finds no essential forms through which to step beyond time, but only images, of which we cannot rid ourselves though we know them to be, like Latin, dead. His new building sculptures make this clear by parading their artifice like gold teeth. Their metallic sheen is funereal high tech, aglow with inner neon light that is not vital but operatic and lugubrious. They would be portentous were it not that, like the camera in Bernardo Bertolucci’s La Luna, we see inside their machinae to felt-and-dexion armatures, so that we perceive them as molds turned inside- out, or classical moldings in Sadean recombinations. These things are architectural zombies: sentient without life, present without depth, and consummately disagreeable.

Brian Hatton