New York

James O. Clark

Max Protetch

James O. Clark works in a manner that evokes the mad scientist, the visionary tinkerer, and the jazz soloist. At a moment when much sculpture consists of either accumulations of found or “store bought” objects or three-dimensional reprisals of other artists’ work, Clark’s often kinetic sculptures dispel the conformist notion that there is nothing left to do in the artistic arena but to criticize consumerism. Clark appears not to have been affected by much of what happened during the ’80s, either in art or critical discourse. His work neither partakes of this dominant esthetic nor reacts against it; he seems to have resisted all the repressive ideas and academic paradigms honored during the ’80s. Indeed, his well thought out, internally logical sculptures seem to have arrived here from another planet.

Clark has a preference for the discarded, the unattractive, the bland, and the blemished. His ingenious structuring of these materials recalls Walter Pater’s dictum that art should “aspire to the condition of music,” evoking its self-sufficient syntax. There is a variousness to Clark’s sculptures that suggests that each piece is the result of the artist’s engagement with the materials at hand. Thus, in contradiction to much of the work that achieved prominence in the ’80s, Clark’s art has no fixed style, nor is it guided by a predetermined viewpoint. Instead, the work is experiential, demanding the viewer’s engagement.

In Tessalator, 1991, Clark aligned springs to the legs of a low, tablelike, steel frame, causing the entire structure to tilt and wobble when touched. Two long metal studs—the kind used to support sheetrock walls—rise out of the table like wings or arms. Contained within each of the studs is a fluorescent light with the metal crumpled around it so as to both hold the light as well as focus its glow. Tessalator is at once funny—a kind of science fiction object made in a post-apocalyptic era (recall the less menacing machines in Mad Max)—and poignant (think of a child just learning to walk). At the same time, the physical awkwardness of Tessalator can be seen as a self-reflexive comment on Clark’s improvisatory approach to his materials. In the freestanding outdoor piece, Daydreamer, 1991, Clark cut open large, white, plastic storage drums and then attached the sections to a circular metal frame. Evocative of flower petals as well as a bird bath, Daydreamer supports a solar-powered device that bathes it in a cold, eerie light. It is possible to read Clark’s imaginative recycling of non-biodegradable materials as a commentary on the cycle of waste that is integral to our “what, me worry?” economic system, but such a narrow view would prevent us from engaging Daydreamer’s complexities. While Clark’s approach goes against the grain of overtly political polemics, he never strikes the “bad boy” pose of a Jeff Koons or a Richard Prince, which is just another form of esthetic machismo; instead, his sculptures articulate a highly imaginative playfulness.

John Yau