New York

Joe Nicastri

Forbidding wooden boxes studded, porcupinelike, with rusty spines, Joe Nicastri’s sculptures open on surprisingly delicate—sometimes macabre-painted interiors depicting nude women and flowers, found objects, and often crushed seashells, or more of those rusty spines. The rugged, blackened, oxidized exteriors of the sculptures suggest sea urchins and treasure chests, decaying coffins, or some long lost Pandora’s box. The interiors offer no change of atmosphere, but tend to be more finished: Nicastri’s long career as a painter is evident in his delicate grisaille nudes and monochrome flowers on glazed black panels, and the sense of a somewhat morbid fascination with the fleeting and the fragile is accentuated by the inclusion of such found objects as dried flowers, blown duck and quail eggs, as well as the crushed shells reminiscent of the ashes left after a cremation.

These works invite touch; I hesitated opening the only one that was closed for fear of cutting myself on the rusty nailed exterior, but curiosity got the better of me and I found myself gently lifting the lid to peer inside. Since touching artwork is such a cultural taboo, I half expected it to tumble from its rather unsteady pedestal, but it opened without mishap. The act of opening or peering into these boxes seemed at once forbidden and essential, as if by covering them with metal spikes, Nicastri had managed to point to the dreaded horrors and wonderful possibilities of the unconscious so prized by his Surrealist predecessors. But, contrary to our expectations, the private world that we enter has none of the quirky inventiveness of a Joseph Cornell assemblage: having crossed this boundary, dared the unthinkable, we are confronted with interiors that seem merely well-crafted. In the end, looking at these works is like venturing into a haunted house or sifting through the belongings of someone who has died: the terror and interest lie more in crossing the threshold than lingering inside.

Justin Spring