New York

Toland Grinnell

Basilico Fine Arts

Nothing if not an ambitious craftsman, Toland Grinnell debuted here in 1995 with an installation and performance piece, Booty, in which he transformed the gallery into a desert isle rendered entirely in vinyl. “Solid,” his recent show, took off on a flight of fancy inspired by the artist’s interest in the Baroque. The old-fashioned museum environment he painstakingly created, though, seems delirious from a case of Surrealism and abounds in hidden scenes, secret levers and compartments, and odd, anthropomorphic details.

Running along the gallery’s back wall was a huge, empty case lined with mirrored squares hung slightly askew (and some tilted outward by a wedge of epoxy). Their reflection of the entire room, refracted into cubistic fragments, became, in effect, the contents of the work, Approaching Zenith, 1998. To one side of the room, Killing Time, 1998, depicts two life-size figures on a pedestal locked in mortal combat, slipping on a gooey-looking base of brown caulk. Partially made from scagliola, the plaster-and-paint imitation of marble, the figures seem to have been shattered, then pieced together with more caulk. Remnants of Roman numerals encircle the figures, but counterclockwise.

In the opposite corner sat Transformation Device, 1997, which, when closed, appears to be a plain white museum sculpture platform, about three feet by five. But the top lifts to reveal elaborate, velvet-lined compartments containing a carefully selected kit for . . . something: a golden bust, five pieces of a wooden pedestal, a pair of scrolls, and segments for a useless armature that could be attached to one side of the pedestal. (The appearance of the work in this show changed considerably as the gallery opened, shut, assembled, and dismantled various components.) More modest is Kouros, a silver cast of two human feet with the skin of one partially peeled away to reveal the bone. The platform on which the piece rests has a tiny set of stairs molded into it, as if the whole were a maquette for a vast monument. All the works seem retrofitted for Lilliputians, in fact, with miniature golden ladders set along the bottom of Approaching Zenith, and a removable silver-and-gold staircase leading from the floor to the top edge of Transformation Device—which also had little silver doors connecting the walls of its inner compartments. Concealment, too, was a running theme: model landscapes (such as a hillside with train tracks cut off in thin air) are hidden behind a false panel in Approaching Zenith and inside the base of Killing Time; and each of the five pedestal sections in Transformation Device contains a miniature scene, including a naked man peeling back the skin of his leg, with the toes of a gigantic foot emerging from a hillside nearby.

There’s a lot of tremendously suggestive imagery in Grinnell’s new works. But what does it mean, for instance, that the leg of the aggressor in Killing Time is twisted into an abstract mass of scagliola? In “Solid,” such a question might be beside the point, or at least beside the artist’s intentions. Grinnell hinted at his deeper concerns in an interview in which he explained his take on Baroque aesthetics: “For me, Baroque is a period of morphing. It happens when we lose sense of the function of content, when individuals want objects to have more meaning than their actual function.” Indeed, the show was teeming with meanings; fixing them to any larger purpose, though, was another issue.

Julie Caniglia