San Francisco

Paul Kos

Jernigan Wicker Fine Arts

Through a variety of strange and often very funny works made over the past two decades, sculptor Paul Kos has clearly staked his claim to a position in the Surrealist line of descent. Certain elements common to much of his sculpture—an air of mystery, a deft appropriation of found objects, and that weird kind of Jerry Lewis humor the French go in for—all evoke this familial relationship. Among the enchanting pieces included in “Sculpture Furnished,” there are even fairly direct homages to Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, the Dada daddies of them all. In Emboss I, II, and III, 1995, three life-sized photographs of a young woman (naked but for a pair of chunky high heels) each record the patterns a particular chair (wicker, wood slats, or the curving tracery of cast metal) has left in the skin on the buttocks and thighs. Not only do the sinuous arabesques of this last seat back recall the famous Surrealist image of a woman with a string instrument’s f-holes painted on her back, but the three photographs also refer—with a kind of impish humor—to Man Ray’s many pictures of the shadows of different curtain materials cast across the attractive contours of his model’s body. In Piss En Lit, 1995, a neat stack of embroidered sheets and pillowcases, Kos creates the kind of double entendre that Duchamp was fond of. In French, the title, stitched in a vivid shade of yellow, means both “dandelion” (pissenlit) and “wet the bed.” Once this is known, the meaning of the additional embroidered elements—something like a cross-stitched cross between flowers and pee stains—is revealed as well.

Other titles simply announce the contents of a particular piece, in deadpan fashion. In Clock, 1995, the face and works in a ten-foot-tall, antique grandfather-style clock case have been replaced with two dripping faucets. The hypnotic staccato beat of the drops, falling somewhere inside the case, suggests the ticking that the absent clock would make (as well as the somewhat tortuous, arbitrary, and even humorous nature of the measurement of time itself). In Tunnel, 1995, a passageway hewn through the circumference of a large wheel of Swiss cheese (minus a hefty wedge) accommodates a tiny toy train. The whirring train circles around and around inside the greasy, hardening cheese—but only after an electric eye has been activated by a viewer’s approach.

The combination of marvelous absurdity and a kind of unique, moth-eaten elegance evoked by many of these works has a perennial appeal. In many ways, “Sculpture Furnished” suggests the personal collection of some eccentric scholar: a Wunderkammer, in other words, like the little museums aristocrats put together for themselves in the 16th and 17th centuries, or even the odd accumulations that filled provincial museums well into this century. Like all that cool old stuff, the attractiveness of many of Kos’ inventions seems to lie partly in their patina of use: the fact that, as tools or furniture, they once had a different life, which they have survived—only to become art.

Maria Porges