New York

Carmen Perrin

These two very different shows marked Swiss artist Carmen Perrin’s solo debut in the United States. Common to all of her work is a commitment to exploring the possibilities of industrial materials—metal, rubber, wood, and fiberglass, among others—which has yielded formally varied but consistently provocative results. John Good presented a range of Perrin’s freestanding and wall-mounted sculptures from the past several years. Populating the floor like hypertensed creatures poised to spring were her relatively large, “temporary” constructions. Assembled of twisted and stressed steel, rubber, and plywood, these are as much about delineating space as they are about creating plastic forms, and the shapes they take are but a by-product of Perrin’s penchant for pushing each material to its limits. In one work from 1991, a double-cone-shaped fiberglass skeleton stretches bands of rubber nearly to their breaking point, while in another work from 1992, pieces of plywood are bent unnaturally to form a gaping, hollow cone. Perrin requires the viewer to rethink the very act of viewing sculpture. Inevitably, her materials are not what they seem—optical illusions abound, mass is repeatedly suggested and then denied, voids are privileged over forms, and each work changes radically when viewed from a different angle. In short, Perrin’s formal virtuosity undermines familiar expectations of what sculpture should be.

Seven square, serially arranged, wall-mounted reliefs made of rubber sheets that have been geometrically patterned with hand-punched holes (1992–93), as well as a single square composition comprised of nails and rubber bands (1992), were also provocative, albeit on a pictorial level. However, the most intriguing wall-hung works were the least obtrusive 29 floppy fragments of dark and light woven rubber that looked deceptively like odd bits of textile. These offered a welcome counterpoint to the hard-edged look of the rest of the show, and placed the artist unmistakably within the tradition of latter-day post-Minimalism.

Perrin’s site-specific installation at the Swiss Institute revealed a very different, but not incompatible side of her sensibility. As she has in past installations, Perrin responded to the history of the site itself. Built in 1904, this house was initially a residence for elderly Swiss immigrants; the two rooms on the ground floor that now comprise the contemporary gallery originally served as living rooms for these tenants. By constructing a thin, colorful covering of store-bought rubber bands linked into long strands, Perrin delineated the parts of the wall that had not been renovated to construct the new gallery—primarily the upper portion between the wainscoting and the ceiling molding—effectively drawing out the tension between the old and new architectural elements of the space. This extended field of rubber-band strings, which shimmered eerily but rather beautifully to the touch, created a random, allover pattern of colors, specifically referencing the wallpaper that once adorned the walls, but more generally creating a bridge with history. The real focus of this installation was the historical resonance of the empty space itself.

Perrin’s sculptures have a timeless urgency to them. They are tense art-historical hybrids: Constructivist precision and devotion to materials, Conceptual patience, and post-Minimalist insouciance via ’80s organic expressivity. Yet through site-specific installations such as this one, Perrin enters history and culture in a real and exciting way, relocating herself in the visual and metaphorical margins of natural or manmade edifices, both to reflect on and even to alter the course of history from a quintessentially post-Modern vantage point.

Jenifer P. Borum