New York

Nicholas Pearson

Condeso/Lawler Gallery

Nicholas Pearson’s formally taut coiled aluminum sculptures mark the culmination of a highly self-conscious exploration of sculptural process. Coming of age in the ’70s at Bennington College, Pearson rejected the Greenbergian legacy in favor of a Minimalist insistence on the artwork’s status as an actual object in space and time. While his early work invoked architectural forms as a way of pointing to sculpture’s origins, by the mid-’80s he had unpacked his essentially closed monoliths, building large, open, steel armatures, containing fired aluminum and pigmented concrete objects, as a means of analyzing structure at the most elemental level. His most recent body of work, which is above all a function of his choice of method—a process of rapidly coiling metal in order to realize spiral “drawings” in space—reveals the consistent focus on the decision-making process that aligns him with the conceptual side of Minimalism.

Three of the four works in this show are freestanding, and sizeable enough to effectively activate the viewer’s sense of space. One does not so much view sculptures such as the uncomplicated Silence (all works 1991), or the comparatively involved Dusk, as orbit them. In the process, their apparent classicism collapses into a sense of baroque imperfection and movement. Situated on a pedestal, the small Bubble appears to spin in place like a top. The light, weathered surface of Pearson’s acid-treated aluminum is visually more subtle than the darker steel used in his similarly coiled pieces of several years ago, which emphasized contour and silhouette. Here Pearson has allowed for a mild play of light and shadow, accentuating the volume of each work.

Pearson’s work reveals a Minimalist emphasis on “primary structures,” and indeed his method depends on machine-executed fabrication to translate a template into three dimensions. Yet paradoxically, the artist’s hand can be detected not only in the minor imperfections caused by the process (which he in fact controls) but in the enigmatic shapes the sculptures take, which, though based on the circle, deviate from pure geometry. Indeed, the top-heavy Fog has the look of a huge beehive or cocoon, while the disklike Silence hugs the floor like a pod. These works are marked by an unmistakable animism, though one that is decidedly mannered, derived not so much from nature as from two generations of post-Minimalist organicism, felt here as the repressed underside of this highly cognitive project.

That Pearson’s coiled constructions do succeed first and foremost as pared-down, abstract forms in space is due primarily to their economy of shape and means, but also to the current artistic climate in which the viewer is saturated with an awareness of successive generations of often incompatible abstract geometries (from Piet Mondrian to Peter Halley) that tend to float free of their original historical context and to mingle anachronistically. This condition, however, is not an obstacle to a contemporary purveyor of abstract form like Pearson; rather, it works to create a favorable vacuum, a desired (albeit momentary) perceptual tabula rasa against which to view the artwork. Indeed, Pearson’s uniquely generated forms manage to hold forth abstractly for some time before they inevitably yield to what Leo Steinberg called “other criteria.”

Jenifer P. Borum