Ron Klein

Jessica Berwind Gallery

Ron Klein’s sculpture synthesizes two sensibilities; a Surrealist practice of combining unrelated objects organizes itself in Minimalist formats. The exhibition title, “Ouroboros,” borrowed from a turn-of-the-century book by Garet Garrett entitled Ouroboros or the Extension of Mankind, refers to a legendary snake that swallows its own tail. The symbol represents man’s wish to gain possession of the objects of his desire through magical means. To this end—and this is of particular interest to Klein—the book discusses man’s invention of the machine. Two subtitles—“Magie Noire” (Black magic), for those pieces whose parts were collected in the south of France, and “Perkiomens,” for those discovered in the flea markets of Perkiomenville, Pennsylvania—point to the fact that Klein sees tourism as an opportunity to gather indigenous refuse. Rebuslike titles for the individual pieces such as I.B.U. or U.C.I. function as symbols, suggesting the sound of the words they represent. These individual titles add a layer of enigmatic personal meaning and clearly announce his attachment to language.

Many of these assemblages are magically empowered by the authority of Klein’s nearly symmetrical arrangements, which transform an unlikely list of worldly items into discrete objects that are sensual and mysterious. Magie Noire A.8., 1990–91, a work that incorporates two gazelle horns and a pair of glass chandeliers, is exemplary in this respect, and its snakelike form refers directly to the Ouroboros. With the exception of a few natural forms, the objects Klein chooses usually have a mechanical source. In Perkiomens U.B.I., 1989–91, two gramophone speakers, a bullhorn, and rubber furniture leg guards become an impossible sound machine as the two large openings of the speakers close in on each other. Some of the pieces enact their transformations without the equalizing power of symmetry. In Magie Noire U.B.U. (4.1.), 1990–91, a watering-can spout caps an antelope horn in an arrangement that is organically convincing.

While all these objects are recycled, often the individual parts become unidentifiable within the sculptures. In a gesture that is as significant as his other formal maneuvers, Klein has painted all of these pieces black. Treated in this way, the identity of the separate elements is put to rest. The black paint is not simply a cool unifying device, it is a silencer of the original functions of the found objects and a powerful tool in this artist’s hands.

Eileen Neff