New York

Steve Currie

Grace Borgenicht

The independent sculptural object often seems like a threatened species. With these recent works, Steve Currie acknowledges the vulnerablity of objects while assuring us of their enduring viability. Deftly manipulating materials with an exacting, unusual conception of craft, Currie succeeds in animating abstraction. With the eight sculptures in this exhibition, the artist points to the uncertain status of contemporary sculpture, through abstractions that look like industrial components and enlarged organisms.

Estranged families of materials are painstakingly joined, techniques rigorously exploited to create discomfiting heterogeneities. Currie achieves a poetic ungainliness by accentuating the incongruities of each work. Valve, 1993, sits low to the floor. The title suggests a functional instrument but the materials and scale evoke once-animate remains. Three juglike elements made of wire lath sealed in perlited plaster are fastened to form a cellular vessel toppled on the floor. The three bases are sheathed with a single clover-shaped piece of aluminum. Each petal of the base has a yellow wooden plug. This ambiguous tripod looks like a banal amenity, but this impression is quickly dispelled by the fastidious treatment of surface and materials. As if it were a relic fortuitously discovered, one felt compelled to slowly circle the object; each side of the piece had an autonomous, idiosyncratic character.

Two of Currie’s sculptures here were stabilized by guy wires suspended from the ceiling. Coupling, 1993, crouching and crowded in the corner, was held upright by a slender cable. In its construction it resembles an industrial remnant, but its title and sensual presence evoke the bonding of elements to complete a process. There is also a disquieting suggestion of coercive affiliation. The two elements stand on single, slender legs that broaden to meet wire-mesh bodies. In an unsettling union of the corporeal and ethereal, one figure is packed with plaster; the other is only open mesh.

Currie’s sculptures have a powerful presence enhanced by their inherent tensions. They are carefully, even obsessively constructed, but the use of materials is purposefully peculiar. Wood is laminated and formed with great care, leaving flat edges clumsily sealed with metal skins. These pieces reflect both the normative conditions of industry and the more idiosyncratic traditions of craft. Both are founded on use-value, but the mystery of Currie’s objects actually lies in their defiant uselessness. Alembic and Cucurbit, both 1993, are independent pieces that share a historical and functional affinity. Alembic is a flasklike shape supported on a wooden leg. The front end devolves into a sweeping lasso of wood that encircled this space like a probing antenna. The companion Cucurbit has a vessel-like torso with two delicate appendages at each end. It sits up on one pair of legs, the arms searching and delimiting space. Both titles refer to the apparatuses used in distillation. These two pieces function as a metaphor for Currie’s work; as mysterious as each appears, they make reference to precise, sophisticated instruments that are involved in a process of clarification. As a whole, they bridge the gulf of meaning between art, craft, and industry.

Patricia C. Phillips