New York

Robert Grosvenor

Alternately ugly and gemlike, intellectual and dumb; both stubbornly formalist and uncannily fake—Robert Grosvenor’s recent sculpture is seductive in its paradoxes. Throughout his career, Grosvenor, who had his first solo exhibition in 1965, has rejected the orthodoxies of Minimalism in favor of a considerably less rationalist language that aligned him more closely with post-Minimalists like Jackie Winsor. But compared to Winsor (never mind Donald Judd or Joel Shapiro), Grosvenor seems to have managed—deliberately or otherwise—to avoid consolidating a recognizable style or “handle.” Indeed, it would be too simple to fold his awkward, idiosyncratic conglomerations of building materials into the category of post-Minimalist sculpture.

The untitled piece, which occupied the gallery’s main space (drawings and photographs, including two images of the sculpture in progress, lined the wall of the entryway), is a conjunction of stone, concrete, steel, and glass. Like other works by Grosvenor, it evokes an architectural condition with rather hermetic terms of utility. The press release described it as “a low flagstone wall that bisects the main gallery, on top of which are placed colored glass orbs like those found in gardens and a sculpture of twisted and intertwining metal rods.” What came to my mind was a piece of ca. 1957, suburban-Illinois lawn decoration—owned by a Martian family.

What is this thing? Where does it come from? In what world might it belong? These are the invigorating questions Grosvenor’s ambiguous object begs, and as they suggest, the issue of narrative is just around the corner. The sculpture has the character of a theatrical prop, as though it were an clement displaced from a stage set, and we can assume that Grosvenor triggers narrative associations deliberately (or, at the very least, knowingly hints at them). But speculations as to the metaphorical or literal significance of this work, like the one tossed out above, inevitably seem outlandish.

Try as one might to excavate meanings hidden within the screwball formal correlation Grosvenor sets up between the silvery metal arrangement (like a contorted television aerial resting on its side) and the glass globes on the stone wall, there may be nothing after all to uncover. It’s not unlikely that the artist’s humorous allusion to the idea of a dimensionalized still-life just circles back to the “life” of artifice itself.

Joshua Decter