New York

Robert Younger

Interart Center

Reflecting an idiosyncratic approach to sculpture developed over two decades, Robert Younger’s most recent installation took the form of a walk-in rebus. It looked like a playroom dreamed up by a somewhat troubled kindergartner during nap time.

Sprawling through two, relatively large rooms, Younger’s ensemble of odd constructions—made of cast-off objects and rough, unfinished materials—formed an allegorical universe, with its own obliquely demarcated earth, sky, habitats, and modes of transportation and communication. A snapshot of Younger wearing a metal dish cover on his head, and a roughly constructed desk modeled after the one in the gallery’s offices, indicated the presence of the artist as divine creator of this hermetic world. Marked by an esthetic sophistication masquerading as playful naïveté, Younger’s universe-building modus operandi cheekily mimicked natural phenomena, building types, and social practices.

Three connected, floor-to-ceiling wood panels decorated with an allover pattern of holes through which shone a green light, and cement balls that looked like a child’s version of a meteor shower, lent the front room cosmic proportions. A domed cement cauldron sitting on drywall buckets and attached to a feeding tube that led into the far panel seemed to be supplying this tableau with its cosmic goo, while small, built-in shelves, filled with felt bedding, tuned the entire structure to the sing-song cadence of a nursery rhyme. Nearby stood a large, utterly dysfunctional raft, complete with a mast and a cellophane sail billowing from the steady stream of air supplied by a strategically placed fan. Replete with evidence of his own hand—the self-consciously awkward use of materials, clumsy but funny mistakes in construction, drips, splatters, and a penchant for the jury-rigged and the unfinished—these works cleverly lampooned sculptural materials and process.

Rounding out Younger’s surrogate world in the front room, a group of works invited one to reflect on human social structures and activities by offering up corollaries found in the animal kingdom. All the works hinged on either subtly playful reversals (a dome turned upside-down, a birdhouse with a pencil for a perch) or pathetically nonfunctional materials (a cement-and-foil antenna dish unable to send or receive messages). As if to flesh out and perhaps supply an imagined power source to Younger’s netherworld of playful allegory-machines, an uncannily simulated industrial landscape, comprised of receding cement cones seemingly filled to the brim with plaster, dominated the back room. Both rooms were lit with primitively installed, exposed lightbulbs that hung like speech balloons, witty metaphors for the artist’s thoughts.

At once sublime and ridiculous, Younger’s installation was a puzzle without a final solution, a conglomeration of promising allegories that offered no conclusive answers or moral pronouncements. If there was enlightenment to be had, it was not in the objects themselves, but in the always visible process of their construction. Beneath the almost slapstick humor with which Younger realized each discrete piece lay a profound investigation of the creative process itself—an eloquent argument for art-as-child’s-play that looks easier than it really is.

Jenifer P. Borum