Chuck Holtzman

Barbara Krakow Gallery

In this exhibition, Chuck Holtzman has proved himself at home working on large-scale sculpture while maintaining the sense of finesse and miniaturist craftsmanship that characterized his tiny constructivist manipulations of hand-cut wood and accompanying charcoal drawings. Typically six feet in height and composed of at least 250 pieces of wood each, the four sculptures exhibited here consist of various geometric configurations of raw wood, touched in places with white spackle, acrylic, and charcoal pencil, and held together by screws and nails, which punctuate the saw-cut surfaces. Holtzman’s inventions resemble fantastic engineering devices, yet their dynamic quality prevents them from appearing too architectonic. These open wall structures are not reliefs; they are three-dimensional objects attached to the gallery wall with French cleats that invite different views from the sides and front.

No On (all works 1990) is the largest and most complex of Holtzman’s sculptural inventions. The top half, which resembles megaphones and speakers, was inspired by the radio orators that Constructivist Gustav Klucis designed for the Russian Revolution; these components consist of silver-painted rectangles, framed in black and capped by silver-and-white spackled funnels, and were constructed with over 100 small wooden rectangles. Long diagonal assemblages of wood, cut with a table saw, lead to a second grouping of solids and voids. However, the lower portion is left raw, and the phantom cones consist of open skeletal octagonals.

His Master’s Voices also presents at least three separate views. Composed of two primary structures, one a skeletal approximation of the other, this wall sculpture is dominated by a pair of black suspended cones that grow from a shallow boxlike structure perforated with ellipses. The carnival quality of Frank Stella’s recent aluminum constructions is here replaced with an oriental sense of simplicity and delicacy. The screws and nails that hold the two basic halves together add a decorative touch as well as serving a functional purpose.

Holtzman is also a superb draftsman, as indicated in Untitled, 1990, a small charcoal drawing on paper, in which intricate arcs, ellipses, and ovals are joined together with delicate wiry lines. Three elliptical shapes are filled in with velvety black charcoal, adding volume and creating a dialogue between line and mass. Cryptic printed letters, including the artist’s initials, act as pictorial hieroglyphs along the drawing’s lower-right edge.

Holtzman’s paintings are those of a sculptor and draftsman; he starts with drawn forms, which he then edits and refines with layers of white translucent paint. That the artist is as concerned with the parts as with the whole is evident both in the infrastructures of the sculptures and the isolated portions of three small, black, beige, and white acrylic paintings on plywood.

Here the paradoxes of two-dimensionality versus three-dimensionality are treated with elegant aplomb, yet his lively biomorphism separates his achievement from both the revolutionary Russian Constructivists and the ’60s Minimalists with whom he shares superficial affinities.

Francine A. Koslow