New York

Donald Lipski

At the heart of the oddly durable appeal of the found object is the pleasure of liberating something from circulation, ending its empty utility in a society organized on the principle of maximal instrumentalization. We love to contemplate such raids on the trash cans of Exchange As Usual and the beauty unwittingly generated by so profound an indifference to beauty. There is also the related seduction on an allegorical level: these gray, preterite objects, otherwise indistinguishable from countless others, have been found—mysteriously graced by election to the privileged class of the art object.

Donald Lipski reanimates this logic of the found with a ludic brilliance. In reviews of his work, forms of the word “poetry” (poet, poetic, poetics) are inevitably invoked in the face of the difficulty of saying anything very precise about Lipski’s delightful way with selecting and recombining things. Walter Benjamin might have been describing Lipski’s work when he wrote of children drawn to objects discarded by adults: “In using these things they do not so much imitate the works of adults as bring together, in the artifacts produced in play, materials of widely differing kinds in a new intuitive relationship.”

The sculptures in the current show all incorporate white candles, revealing Lipski’s leaning toward a theme-and-variation approach. Here, the demand for ingenuity risks generating the impression of a project from a summer camp for hyperactive artistic children—a scenario Lipski circumvents by sheer grace of invention. Untitled, 1991, a small, burning candle beneath a convex magnifying glass, set inside a metal lamp base at eye-level, functions simultaneously as an epigraph on mortality, an homage to Melville, and a Parmigianino-esque summation of the show in self-portrait. In a grander, romantic gesture, also Untitled, 1991, a heavy wooden bed frame has been packed with white tapers.

In the end, it’s the candles themselves rather than any pressure to employ them ingeniously in work after work, that emerge as the installation’s trickiest aspect. The magic of Lipski’s sculpture depends on his almost unerring feel for juxtapositions that best bring out the textural grain of the materials he uses. For instance, in an earlier piece, Untitled #289, 1988, thin sheets of shattered glass surround a butcher block in which an axe has been embedded, proposing a relation between axe and glass that is palpable, almost audible, excruciating.

The problem with candles is their surcharge of metaphorical associations. Lipski seems divided about how to navigate this mire of meaning. Sculptures joining candles with objects associated with music (sousaphone case, harp case, trumpet) suggest an overestimation on his part of lyricism’s power to short-circuit sentimentality. On the other hand 1000 Light Points, 1991–92, presents about eighty small solutions to the problem Candle + Commodity X—a waterfall of sculptural permutations in the happily compulsive manner of Lipski’s early Gathering Dust, 1978–79.

Thad Ziolkowski