New York

Andrew Topolski

Andrew Topolski’s late-spring exhibition “North, South, East, West” charted his interest in scientific, musical, and architectural systems. The works assembled here resembled precise scientific instruments and graphs, but were actually more like props for a philosophical debate than precision tools. Self-referential and nonutilitarian, they drew on eclectic sources, ranging from mathematical diagrams and musical scores to old master works and the writings of Herman Melville. Topolski seemed less preoccupied with the functions to which these objects allude than with their aesthetic or didactic qualities: evoking numerous, often competing, associations, these works suggested an imaginary voyage to a universe where dreams and science collide.

Navigator I, 1995, was printed on a copper plate coated with a claylike material and composed of a series of juxtaposed, overlapping images that included numbers, letters, chartlike grids, fragments of Moby Dick, and a reproduction of a drawing by Albrecht Dürer. Along the bottom of the work, Topolski extended a series of what looked like rulers—narrow metal strips marked with numbers. By using graphite silk-screen technique to transfer images to the reddish copper, Topolski lent this piece the look of an old document. The juxtaposition of fantastic and found images infused Navigator I with an oneiric quality, yet, formally, it echoed the world of everyday objects.

Two works, Hy-Parmeter EA and HyParmeter EF (both 1996), referred to notions of measurement and balance. Hybrid pieces—composed of a space-age radar screen, a compass, and a flattened version of an armillary sphere (an astronomical device used in antiquity to show the configuration of the universe)—they incorporated into their tender armature (of wood, plaster, steel, and wire) measuring devices such as levels and thermometers that fused the imaginary powers of a mere bricoleur with the precision of an engineer.

In Dead Weight, Five Balls, 1996, scientific instruments that serve for plotting the exact positions of places and objects read as both topographical tools and military devices. This work consisted of a cane- or umbrella-like construction that pierces a polished steel cylinder, itself supported by a metal pedestal that stands on a high, narrow table on which eighteen small balls were arranged to resemble a control panel. As if by magic, the “umbrella” becomes transparent and in passing through the cylinder is transformed into a sharp-ended rod. (One can’t help but recall Lautréamont’s surreal “chance encounter on an operating table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.”) Topolski’s Dadaist playfulness turns here into a meditation on the dangerous nature of technological inventions, as the piece comes increasingly to resemble a deadly weapon—one of those infamous “umbrellas” used by Bulgarian spies during the cold war. Menacing as it is, this piece is so immediately enchanting that it could be nothing other than the handiwork of an insatiable dreamer. In the end, Dead Weight, Five Balls, as much as any other work in the show demonstrated that Topolski’s art springs more from cool poetic imagination than from high-tech innovation.

Marek Bartelik