New York


Leo Castelli

Chryssa’s new sculptures have an airy, urbane briskness; they ingeniously fuse the architectonic sobriety of the city and its lurking violence. At the same time, by reason of their white purity, they convey a sense of lyric transcendence. It is as though, in being artistically recreated as a kind of planar script, the epic city becomes a delicate ghost of itself—unimaginable except as an esthetic mirage.

Chryssa’s Chicago, for example, is a less physically oppressive—much more spiritual place—than Carl Sandburg’s muscular city. It is a high-tech temple of ironic materiality. Chicago Cityscape I, 1988–90, is a Dionysiac construction of aluminum planes so eccentrically shaped and at odds with one another that they seem to writhe uncontrollably. It is as though they were laboring to give birth to space, or signaling a more archaic space than the one we inhabit. Conventional measurable space is suggested by projecting axes—parallel verticals, one marked by a line of lyric neon—but their organizational power is negligible. Chryssa puts the Cubist space of incommensurability to new dynamic use, without resorting to cliche.

In Chicago Cityscape II, 1988–90, a tangle of planes projects unstably from near the center of a flat grid. The centripetal three-dimensional irregularity and the centrifugal two-dimensional regularity collide—even share specific features—but essentially disjunct. For all the effort at integration, a sense of insecurity, disruption, and disintegration dominate. Vertical and horizontal neon axes are all the more edgy by virtue of their being constituted of primary colors in conflict, as though the unresolvable color relations signaled the work’s inner disorientation. The internal conflict of the pieces is made even more vivid by the implied frame that does not quite work.

Yet the conflict in these sculptures is, nonetheless, curiously contained and nowhere more so than in Chryssa’s four-season pieces, which suggest an exquisite chamber music full of nervous drama. In each, a concentration of interactive planes, more or less off-center, are flanked by clipped, uneven wings. It is as though each piece were a portable altar remade to suit a modern sensibility, unsettled by its own belief in a higher power. Entanglement substitutes for wholeness. Each sculpture is a sublime concentration of fragments, a puzzle whose pieces cannot be made to fit together, a Humpty Dumpty making the intellectual best of his shattered state. Chryssa has given up the vestiges of signs she used in earlier works, but the erratic excitement of the planes seems cabbalistic in import—conveys cabbalistic passion.

In these sculptures, Chryssa effects a transition from her earlier chaotic, abstract cityscapes, in which the city functioned as a symbol of the self, to an inner landscape of reified impulse, in which abstraction seems the only direct, authentic language of the self. At the same time, her abstraction is a way of putting a brave face on inner catastrophe as though there were no inner trouble at all.

Donald Kuspit