Douglas MacWithey

The formal variety and disparity of Douglas MacWithey’s sculptures and drawings reveal his preference for a flux of unresolved meanings. Rife with paradox, MacWithey’s works refuse the finality of narrative resolution. While his metal sculptures, exploring opposites such as open versus closed, are sparsely minimal, his drawings are contrastingly baroque. These works are covered with delicate botanical images, randomly placed strips of clear tape, and cramped, barely legible stream of consciousness writing.

MacWithey’s concern with flux is evinced in individual works. The austere series of bare-bones sculptures, “An Hollow,” 1990, consists of tall, thin, wall-mounted sheets of partially rolled metal that expand and contract in space. Typically, two sheets are abutted and wrap around one another, and the open hollow of one sheet closes, just as the conjoining hollow of the other sheet begins to open. While the series offers a concrete division of wall space reminiscent of Barnett Newman’s “zips,” their slight relief and rolled character rhythmically activate more than just the planar space of the wall; they elegantly reach out into the room. These works envelop and open a fluid, expanding space even as the rolled and twisted metal sheets compress space more tightly. This polarity is seized upon not merely as an opposition but as a nexus for activating space.

The most striking of MacWithey’s sculptures, Three Bridges at Königsberg, 1990, consists of triangular troughs of copper, aluminum, and sheet metal. The basic structure suggests three bridges, loosely joined to form another triangle—the end (or beginning) of one bridge meets the end of another. This work modifies the Königsberg bridge problem. Mathematicians have long speculated on the possibility of crossing the seven bridges in that Prussian city without recrossing any of them; in MacWithey’s work, no such path is possible. He reduces to three the number of bridges, and, through their joining, he makes the possibility of avoiding a recrossing moot. Indeed, the work celebrates the necessity of recrossing as a narrative moment to be suspended and enjoyed.

A similar suspension of narrative occurs in the drawing how it is the dead man suffers the loss of his loved ones, 1990. MacWithey hangs partially filled glasses of water, containing single strips of metal, in front of the drawing. Lines of dialogue cover the drawing surface, and rings of evaporation mark the water-filled glasses and metal strips. The parablelike title and the writings suggest a moral but none is forthcoming. Like the glasses, which are neither empty nor full, we find ourselves in a vaporous in-between region. Refreshing in a world where both paradox and happy endings are used to terrorize as well as placate, these works seem imaginatively fanciful without being fantastic. Through a variety of structural, visual, and written forms, MacWithey provides a place for the consideration of incompleteness.

Roy Gary

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