New York

Sydney Blum & Mark Schwartz

Bill Bace Gallery

Though Sydney Blum’s large floor sculptures and Mark Schwartz’s paintings unmistakably reflect the conventions of their separate art forms, exhibited together these works generate an exchange of ideas and formal conventions. Eschewing pictorial representation, each artist attempts to portray the volatile energy of the natural world. Their energetic esthetic productions negotiate the zone between abstraction and figuration, denotation and connotation, charting ambiguous territory.

Three very large paintings on unstretched canvases filled the south wall of the gallery. In all the paintings, an unidentifiable form in the center was surrounded by transparent washes of color that created a turbulent atmosphere. Schwartz’s combinations of acrylic, oil, and tar emphasized that matter evolves from energy—from an improbable concentration of atmospheric debris. A visible process of painting, drawing, scratching, marking, and repainting evoked both what is hidden and what is immediately perceptible in the natural world.

In scale, Blum’s horizontal forms echoed Schwartz’s gigantic paintings. Placed on the floor at the front and back of the gallery, the works in this series, “Finding Home,” 1993–94, were constructed from combinations of jute, horse and cow hair, and thread. Blum’s works underscored a dark ambivalence about the environment. Like abandoned casings or animal dens, Blum’s long, sacklike constructions lay limply on the floor. The viewer could look through one end of these structures into a seemingly empty darkness.

While the gestures in Schwartz’s paintings reflected a futuristic cosmology, Blum’s sculptures suggested repetitious and consuming labor. The shell of each piece consisted of panels of jute that overlapped in random or geometric patterns. Hair was hand-stitched on the jute to create individual pelts. In contrast to the organic quality of the jute and horse hair, much of the sewing was a crazy quilt of measured stitches produced with an industrial sewing machine. The tracks of the machine scored and imprinted the unruly surface. Like Schwartz’s supple and misshapen canvases, Blum’s sculptures used no armature other than the thickness of jute, the pliability of each piece contrasting with its monumentality.

If Schwartz’s constructions of paint and tar seemed concerned with mapping fields of energy, Blum’s sculptures mimicked nature’s subterranean forms. Rather than evoking the metamorphic possibilities of the cocoon, Blum’s work was an eloquent meditation on shelter and self-defense. Like underground lairs brought to the surface, her sculptures illumined the predatory aspects of a world of violent natural selection.

Patricia C. Phillips