New York

Gonzalo Fonseca

Arnold Herstand Company

Gonzalo Fonseca’s limestone sculptures are simultaneously primitive and elegant, like the ruins of an archaic world. Inserted into their structures are parts of petrified bodies, reliquary objects, and geometrical shapes that seem both to belong and not to belong. In Anthro, 1988 and Pleroma, (Explosion of light, 1990), little steps in pueblolike structures lead nowhere, as though rituals in themselves. In Terrazas (Terraces, 1985-90), grander steps—suggesting a section of a Yucatan pyramid—are covered, at discreet intervals, with ritual objects waiting to be used in magic ceremonies, the exact routine of which has long been forgotten. All the pieces have a psychologically as well as physically intricate look, as though we are viewing objects that symbolize something human that was once all-important but has subsequently grown remote.

Fonseca sets up a number of formally unforgettable structural contrasts, epitomized by Krepidoma (Foundation, 1987-88), with its grand rectangular obelisk, small fruitlike form, and still smaller buildinglike structure. The tension between the miniature and the monumental pervades his works, engendering uncanny scalar effects. Fonseca seems to mythologize material and form in the very act of sculptural articulation, as though torn between the wish to assert them in their uncompromising givenness and to “elevate” them—to make them poetic absolutes.

Fonseca’s sculptures have affinities with both Alberto Giacometti–type Surrealism and scuola metafisica spatiality, which is to suggest that they pursue a Modernist sense of enigma. They succeed to a point, not by reason of their symbolism, but rather, unexpectedly, through their unpredictable contrasts of surface. Stylized rough cuts butt up against overrefined smoothness; impenetrable solidity is penetrated by carefully cut, transparently geometric holes, all in uncanny relationship. In works such as Herm, 1986-90, some stone remains to be removed from the cut, and some has been completely removed and replaced by mysteriously pendulous spheres. Indeed, the contrast between the varying degrees of emptiness and the bluntness of the stone’s presence is the really unnerving thing about Fonseca’s sculptures. It is this discreetly absurdist formal strategy of spatial manipulation that makes these sculptures more than simply charismatic signals of a forgotten mentality. Fonseca’s works—sometimes obliquely figural in allusion, sometimes buildinglike—are the altarpieces of a make-believe primitive culture with a sophisticated sense of the supernatural, a culture that believes the supernatural prefers sacrifices of fine objects rather than of unrefined bodies.

Donald Kuspit