“Country Sculpture”

L’Usine/Le Consortium

Under the deliciously absurd title “Country Sculpture,” this exhibition—the invitation to which depicted Dolly Parton in full regalia—brought together one or sometimes two works by each of the following artists: John Chamberlain, Robert Grosvenor, Bertrand Lavier, Matthew McCaslin, Anita Molinero, Bernard Pagès, Nancy Rubins, Frank Stella, Jessica Stockholder, Jacques Vieille, and Carel Visser. The gist of this entire operation—which can be easily inferred from the title “Country Sculpture”—was the notion that the country-dweller feels cramped in the city. The show’s theme, manifested differently in each of the various rooms, was filling up the space to the limit, if not to excess. This was immediately apparent, as the work was nearly spilling out the Consortium’s door, the first room of which was occupied from floor to ceiling with a pile of large wooden boards separated by columns of stacked tires. This piece, entitled Construction, 1994, by Jacques Vieille only allowed visitors a tight passage on either side: one found oneself propelled against the wall.

The very large—or even overly large—format has often been favored by sculptors. In the ’60s, for example, Tony Smith and Ronald Bladen staged some particularly successful invasions of interior spaces. But the notion is nearly as old as the art of sculpture itself: in his Geographia, written around two thousand years ago, Strabo remarked that the large chryselephantine sculpture by Phidias, some four centuries earlier, for the temple of Zeus at Olympus, gave the impression that if the seated god were to stand up suddenly, he would lift the roof off the building. Bertrand Lavier’s Dolly, 1994—a hot-air balloon which in its deflated state spread out in a huge multicolored wave that spilled out of the balloon’s navel onto the floor of an entire room—might thus wonderfully suggest the potential explosiveness of the architectural box that contains it. In a more literal mode, Nancy Rubins’ enormous Table and Airplane Parts, 1992, seemed to float menacingly through the space allotted to it. The “impossible” contours of the work, its many protuberant angles and its assemblage, which resembled some senseless accretion of detritus after a catastrophe, all worked together to create a sense of a most impressive kind of excessiveness. More playful, but also more overtly destructive, Jessica Stockholder’s installation House Beautiful, 1994, revealed some of the hidden parts of the building.

At the Usine, the number of grouped pieces more than their intrinsic dimensions seemed to take over the enormous room like a single piece. The dominant inspiration appeared to be “junk sculpture”—the concept was played out in several unprecedented variations. The ragged mass of Life Buoy, 1990, by Frank Stella, offered a counterpoint to Rubins’ piece (presented here with an accumulation, eloquently and descriptively entitled Danish Hot Water Heaters, 1994). Two sculptures by Visser, as sophisticated as they were incongruous, Dier, 1983, and On the Balcony, 1985, embodied a sort of novel primitivism. But it was Robert Grosvenor who proposed the most astonishing work of the lot: Untitled, 1991–92, a construction of concrete blocks and a roll of sheet metal, protected by a large black disk that circled above it, provided a concluding note to this very intelligently conceived exhibition.

Jean-Pierre Criqui

Translated loan the French by Diana C. Stoll.