Los Angeles

Alison Wilding


In this spare exhibition, Alison Wilding has constructed three disparate sculptural experiences—three tightly ordered arrangements of forms that play out pseudo-narratives, stories promised but seductively withheld.

In Temper, 1991–92, for example, a three-part configuration of shapes situated discreetly in the center of the room scarcely interacts with the space. Two seductively symmetrical, curved sheets of steel come together to form an eye-shaped wedge, with one of the two open ends resting on the floor. While this portion of the piece recalls Richard Serra’s walls of steel looming aggressively over an intimidated viewer, the sculpture ultimately eschews these macho pyrotechnics via its multiplicity of shapes and relatively small scale. Wilding has joined the meticulously finished sheets (which contrast with the contrived spontaneity of Serra’s rusted and streaked surfaces) neatly at two ends. Inserted into the open lozenge of space between them is an inverted polished-brass cone, visible only if one peers inside the elaborately configured puzzle of elements. Its pointed end is truncated so that it hovers a few inches from the floor. A yellow Plexiglas cylinder, placed over this inverted cone, rests gently on the parted, rubber-rimmed lips of steel. Somewhat large (about nine feet tall at its highest point), the sculpture’s visual complexity and material intricacy involve the viewer’s body in a decidedly theatrical experience.

The narrative effect of Wilding’s work is theatrical as well. Three small blunted cone shapes are screwed to an adjacent wall around their slim metal rims. Situated about six and a half feet off the ground, they are forged of brass, their hollow ends filled with juicy scoops of red resin, suggesting open mouths or ruby-colored lipstick pots.

Next to these, two webs of thick copper wire, entitled Burned, 1992, increase in density but narrow in profile as they approach the floor. They are lacy and open on top, with slightly menacing loose wires poking into the air. These enormous sievelike vessels are vaguely phallic, and they also threaten to cohere as human forms; as a pair, they suggest columns that have no function but are visually pleasing nonetheless. These abstracted yet anthropomorphic sculptural forms are not quite substantial enough to claim allegiance to the erect and dominating heroism of the monument. Like the other two arrangements, they ultimately seem to be about sculpture itself, elements in the ongoing dialogue about the nature—and the visual and physical experience—of sculptural form. They are, to this end, profoundly modernist.

In a neighboring room, a series of charcoal and water-based crayon drawings on paper, depicting figurative-cum-sculptural forms, add a somewhat hollow stiffness to the exhibition. With ragged, sometimes cut edges and short charcoal strokes, they mimic the virile spontaneity of Modernist master drawings, partaking of an estheticism that seems disingenuously coy.

Wilding’s objects and drawings seem unable, finally, to resist the solipsistic flatulence of formalism—its determination of artmaking as a process driven by endless, tautological formal routines. Appearing first to be a critique of the Minimalist tradition, Wilding’s arrangements end up seeming to be primarily, if not solely, about artmaking itself. The sculptural forms resist critical analysis of any but an analogical sort. Ultimately, they are not post-Modern, for they continue to engage the body of a Modernist subject that may no longer exist.

Amelia Jones