Josh Garber

Klein Art Works

Josh Garber executed this suite of sculptures during a recent residency at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and this body of work definitely gives the feeling of being a finite project, a systemic response to a specific artistic agenda. Taking advantage of the foundry facilities at the Kohler, Garber cast five large sculptures— Touch , Contain, Grip, Hold, and Merge (all works 1992)—in iron or brass, and then for each piece produced four smaller versions in a variety of materials with differing surfaces. Each separate object was informed by and made somewhat dependent on its relation to the larger piece so that the series finally functioned in a familial manner—the four smaller pieces postulating genetic variations that point to the potential of another generation of ideas.

This attention toward gesture and potential permutations—there was no compelling reason for Garber to stop at four variations—encourages an examination of and experimentation with surface. In each series all of the smaller pieces are precisely the same size, and obviously of identical design; shape and contour become a given, and variation is manifested solely through Garber’s introduction of alternate finishes and patinas. The simple but bold U-shape of Merge, cast in iron and treated so as to exude a rich and pitted orangish rusted surface gets four alternative solutions—two cast in brass, one each in iron and bronze. Rising just eight and a half inches in height, the surfaces of these modest extrapolations are saturated to varying degrees with rich browns and golds, each subtly different, presenting an altered appearance which takes its meaning not from variation in shape but from the sequence of exterior articulations. Garber enameled several pieces in his other series, giving them reflective surfaces with bold and forceful colors; Contain IV is fire-engine red, while Touch IV is a deep and shiny blue.

Garber’s five “prototypes” are comprised of rather simple sculptural gestures. Soft, pliable, pillowlike forms get bent or folded into one another, each series marked by the single large gesture intimated by its title. Garber keeps the contours of each series restrained and peaceful; the heart of this matter finally rests resolutely on the surface. The two bulbous forms that pleasingly come together in Touch create no particular tension. They simply become the basis for reiterations of the original, at one-third the size, their forms sheathed in other substances and coatings that slightly, but sometimes interestingly, modify their profile and the ambience they create. While less intriguing and ambitious than the coiled-steel rod sculptures for which he is better known, these essays in pitting and patina make their contribution to the continuing question of whether sculpture is an art of plastic form or exposed surface, and provide evidence that suggests it is both and neither.

James Yood