New York

Keith Edmier

Petzel Gallery | East 67th Street

For Keith Edmier’s recent show, the window of the gallery had been altered to accommodate a single form, Nowhere (Insideout) (all works 1995), convex on the inside, concave on the outside, which consisted of an acrylic cast that pushed forward into the gallery, ulcerating the interior space with a gorgeous, incandescent amethyst glow. The diagonal fissure across its center could, in the psychosexual reading that finds a phallus in every protrusion and a vagina in every concavity, have suggested a wound, but the central fissure’s spiky, crystalline structure soon laid such interpretative impulses to rest. Departing from the biomorphism of the overall form, this faultline suggested, rather, the mineralization of the invisible pressures that create such a bulge. Here, at the point of maximum extrusion or compression, biology becomes geology, the elasticity of the bubble—its organic motivity and its formal mutability—fractured on the literal rocks of its tectonic interior.

In the rear section of the gallery, a freestanding sculpture, Siren, served as a visual counterpoint to the translucent, bowed front window. Loosely modeled on the tornado sirens that punctuate the linear landscape of the Midwestern corn bowl, Siren boasted symmetrical yellow air horns on opposite sides of a rapidly widening, turned-aluminum stand, rooted to the floor by four vaguely cloven, prehensile feet. The tension between sound and silence, between the opposing vortices of horn and tornado, yellow and purple, between positive and negative pressures represented by Siren and Nowhere (Insideout) provided the contextual framework into which was inserted the most successful of the three pieces.

Sprouting from the central space, Blister, a single cornstalk, was cast in the lurid flesh tones of a dental-acrylic. Beneath it, to one side, lay a lone cob, its scale significantly inflated, which looked as if it had been frozen in a state somewhere between metamorphosis and atrophy. The stalk itself was a virtuoso piece of casting, a detailed impression that owed much of its precision to the advent of silicone moldmaking, which has revolutionized mimetic sculptural practice as much as high-speed film did the representation of movement. Not coincidentally, Edmier’s brand of illusionism is drawn from film-particularly from his experience as a prosthetic effects artist for schlock-horror flicks such as Exorcist III: Legion, 1990, and Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, 1990, or parodies of the genre, such as Barton Fink, 1991. Topping off its already considerable visceral impact, Blister also constructs its own macabre kind of folklore. From the early Mayan sacrifices, to the faintly veiled paganism of harvest festivals, to the more recent reinvestment in chthonic mythology signaled by films such as Children of the Corn, 1984, the cob yields a symbolic harvest rich in associations of monstrous fertility. Blister appears to play on all these readings while settling on none: its puckered end suggests that complex mutations are as likely to arise from parasitic interference as from inbreeding.

Though there was the promise of a narrative connection between these three sculptures, it was never fulfilled. Edmier’s earlier works consisted of blurry blow-ups of snapshots from his youth, elements of which were indicated by the artist’s finger, huge and fuzzy in the foreground. The horizontals and verticals of the picture combined with an aperture or door in the background to suggest the spatialization of memory, and thus, perhaps, the failure of the linear readings that offer direct passage from the past to the present. With this latest work similar notions were played out in a language of far greater visual and symbolic sophistication. While it has become something of a mannerism among many of Edmier’s contemporaries to confound linear analysis by presenting the scattered fallout of an event whose shape always remains indistinct, Edmier’s most recent body of work does not attempt to generate complexity from formal incoherence. Instead, it demonstrates that formal acuity and metaphorical opacity can indeed make for strange and beguiling bedfellows.

Neville Wakefield