New York

Pieter Laurens Mol

Louver Gallery

Pieter Laurens Mol’s first solo show in New York is a miniretrospective of sorts, presenting a cross section of this Dutch sculptor’s rich, mixed-media constructions from the mid ’70s to the present. His sculptures partake of both a Beuysian alchemy in their unusual material transformations and a Duchampian ambiguity in the unresolved paradoxes they inevitably harbor. Yet Mol’s project may be seen as a countercurrent to that of the simulationist/commodity sculptors who claim Duchamp as their precursor. While the commodity fetishists reject the possibility of an ongoing art-historical dialogue, Mol is concerned with locating himself within that history. In contrast to the neo-Duchampian’s tendency of communicating a facile, ironic message through otherwise empty materials, Mol draws out and manipulates the inherent symbolic possibilities of a wide range of materials.

Mol places himself in the tradition of Northern European artists from Breugel to Mondrian, not only by virtue of his sensibility, but via specific if frequently subtle references. In Les Guirlandes de Breugel (Breugel’s garlands, 1988), Mol has inserted rolled-up pages of Friedlander’s monograph on that artist into a perforated wooden board, in a gesture that points to his concern with self-placement and influence. In La Berceuse (The lullaby, 1985), by painting Mondrian-like squares of red lead onto a large photograph, Mol references the debate between illusionism and Modernist abstraction. Mondrian’s esoteric abstraction permeates Mol’s works, lending a trace of order to an otherwise uncontrollable range of subjects.

In using a vocabulary of alchemical materials—sulphur, zinc, rust, gunpowder, and lead—that bear a potential for transformation, Mol charges his sculptures with potential energy. Huisnummerbord voor de Het (666—Hell’s home number, 1987), a drawing that recalls a Jasper Johns is made of gunpowder. Similar paradoxes are found in Counter of Submission and Muiterij Lyriek (Mutiny lyrics; both 1990); each tableaux presents common, transient materials—rust and shaving cream respectively—as if precious and lasting. Mol’s materials almost always engage the viewer, as either a potential activator of their explosive qualities, or as a potential victim of their toxicity, as seen in Spiegel van het Noodlot (Mirror of fate, 1983), with its lead-covered canvas that tilts threateningly off the wall. One of Mol’s signature symbols for the transference of energy is a cone shape, which alludes to a rocket-nozzle, and appears in such diverse guises as a glass funnel in Val der Vergetelheid (Trap of oblivion, 1987), and a rusted bird cage in Principles of Propulsion, 1989. These objects suggest the flow or entrapment of energy. Mol’s cryptic iconography is not always accessible, but the tension animating these works is consistently palpable.

Just as the materials themselves are charged with energy, Mol’s works are psychologically loaded. The artist incorporates himself in his sculptures, often with bodily traces or with photographs. In Solitude (Meridians of loneliness), 1980, the abstracted pattern scratched into the rusted iron panel with the artist’s fingernails spells the word “solitude.” In The Immediate Fermentation, 1987, Mol presents himself prostrate and covered by a blanket in several photographs arranged around a bed of decaying rubble, implicating his own body in this depiction of entropy. For Mol, alchemical mystery is matched by that of the psyche. Ascension Dream Sculpture, 1980–81, a loose arrangement of photographs showing the artist struggling with a pillow, is a humorously self-conscious attempt to represent his own “dream work,” which is too ephemeral to capture objectively.

Mol’s sculptural investigation of subjectivity, while intuitive, is not carried out in an uncritical vacuum. These works are sophisticated, even cautious, revealing an awareness of their place in history. Mol take risks, and this is refreshing and rare in today’s stifling artistic climate in which hypercriticality frequently precludes creativity. Much is at stake here, not only one artist’s personal investment, but more generally, the possibility of sculpture functioning as a forum for unique expression, however historically or culturally mediated.

Jenifer P. Borum