New York

Richard Deacon

Richard Deacon’s Eight and Nine, both 1997, represent nothing less than the reconstruction of the organic by mechanical means. The result might be called a kind of “biotechnology,” as though the sculptor, like Dr. Frankenstein, had engineered something natural. Deacon’s work shows us that the Modernist separation of the organically created and the artificially constructed—early Constructivism in particular elevated the latter as both emblem of and working method in the brave new world—is false.

The system determining the ratios among the various sections of Eight and Nine is one of natural progression, like that of growth rings in trees. The internal radius of the tightest band is the same as the diameter of the tube, while the next internal radius is the same as the outer radius of the first. The largest is two steps up from the smallest, and the next band would have been another three increments. Both sculptures are made of beechwood, further confirming their “naturalness.”

Elsewhere in this show of fourteen works, Deacon continued to explore the formal homologies between geometrical module and biological gene. Fleshy and embryonic in appearance and overlaid with a grid, Plant, 1995, resembles a cell in the process of reproducing itself. In a marvelous untitled series of collages, the “organisms”—which look like sculpted viscera—seem to float majestically in the sky.

The analogies between biological and geometrical forms (both are abstract, minimal, and repetitive) that Deacon explored in this show are more than serendipitous: they indicate that the conception of nature as mathematical in basis—the Leibnizian “mathematical dream” of nature—has an empirical foundation. Deacon implies that it is time for art to reintegrate what it had once kept apart: geometry and nature are not alien but inseparable. His work conflates the two—geometry is natural structure, natural structure is inherently geometrical. Deacon’s organically curved, complex, vitalistic minimalism is a long way from Carl Andre’s simplistic geometric constructions and flatness. While Andre’s work achieves an aesthetically autonomous status by stripping away all signs of life, Deacon’s system shows the methodological aspect of natural processes. It is a pleasure to see art that turns away from “reductive” elimination and its deadening entropic monotony and toward the life force, without compromising the idea of a “principled” art.

Donald Kuspit