New York

Dan Hoffman

Though Dan Hoffman is first and foremost an architect, as his structural and spatial manipulations suggest, this exhibition positions itself between art and architecture, militantly challenging the prevailing conditions of contemporary architectural practice that have robbed it of intellectual, sensual, and creative immediacy. Though architecture, which is distinguished by its scale, ubiquity, and complexity, requires a managed approach, Hoffman resists the alienating forces of capital that exempt the architect from the creative process and turn this practice into a rote and formulaic procedure.

Hoffman’s gritty studies and notations are the visceral residue of the activities of architectural construction. One of the untitled studies in this exhibition includes a wooden plank on wheels that supports a graceful arch made of burlap cylinders placed side to side like sausages in casings. The implied movement of the wagon and the gentle tension created by the tactile arch make the experience of construction palpable. In another study, a long, sealed wooden case suggests concealed evidence, just as content is implied by four filled bags shaped like great pods that support the box. Half of the piece is charred; like much of the work, there is a connection between aggressive, ephemeral activities and an enduring physicality.

Many of the studies share agricultural and industrial qualities. They evoke the shapes and moving parts of machines—the clumsy apparatuses invented to accomplish great, repetitive tasks. But Hoffman’s sense of scale remains tied to the human body; the projects register the movements of the hand, body, and mind involved in an act of construction.

Another study in which a wagon again supports a wooden armature incorporates four canvas chutes. A black waxy substance poured into the fabric funnels appears to have dripped onto the floor before it hardened sufficiently to stay in the porous forms. Thus, both the process of casting and the forces of gravity are recorded as architectonic and material evidence. Without being coyly derivative, Hoffman’s work synthesizes his architectural inquiries with a sensitivity to the communicative power of materials seen in the work of artists such as Joseph Beuys.

Architecture is in crisis, and Hoffman’s aggressive acts of resistance address the fracture of production, politics, experience, and esthetics within the field. Whether or not architecture is an art is a question fraught with doubt, but the physicality and scale of his studies may affect style well before they influence the stymied institutionalized procedures of contemporary architecture.

Patricia C. Phillips