New York

Carl D'Alvia

Jessica Fredericks Gallery

Carl D’Alvia’s life-size plaster statues conjure an inspiring vision: The family that slays together stays together. “Dad” is a hulking brute in superhero garb who sits like Rodin’s Thinker, contemplating the high-powered machine gun grafted to his forearm (Bad Guy, 1997). “Mom,” a caped, spandexed hard-body with ten Shiva-like arms (Ms. Trouble, 1998), raises her own Gatling-gun prostheses in a cubistic reenactment of Robert De Niro’s Taxi Driver “You talkin’ to me?” routine. And between them “Junior”—a cyberdog with video-camera eye, external-hard-drive brain, and shoulder-mounted machine pistol (Rat Dog, 1996)—looks ready to squeeze off a few rounds of his own.

The title of the series, “Statuary,” reveals that D’Alvia aims to combine two suspect genres: the tradition of public statuary that survives today mainly in kitschy commissions of Seward Johnson and Frederick Hart (of Vietnam Memorial fame), and the vast subculture of comic books, Japanese animation films, and computer games aimed primarily at teenage boys. By uniting them, he encourages a kind of mutual critique. The figures’ heroic scale makes us painfully aware of the conventions and clichés of comic-book illustration (Roman helmets and capes, Cadillac fins on gloves and boots, curvaceous physiques with sex characteristics chastely smoothed away). At the same time, the all-white statues subtly mock neoclassicism’s subtexts of proto-fascist body worship and phallic symbolism.

Yet beneath the layers of irony, D’Alvia clearly relishes his subject matter. Compared to the generic equestrian figures and stately politicians of traditional public statuary, D’Alvia’s pieces have a wonderful, bizarre imagination. And his formal skill—what he calls “extreme craft”—lends an unexpected authority to pulp themes. Obsessively carving and sanding the figures (made of pottery plaster over wood and aluminum armatures) to a state of buff, slightly toothy perfection, he brings an erotic urgency to musculature and weaponry, even paraphernalia such as armor and utility belts. Executed in tactile, three-dimensional form (and thus quite different from the special-effects creations of Hollywood, where we might most expect to encounter such dressed-to-kill cyborgs), these adolescent fantasies of empowerment become disturbingly palpable, a genuine vision of dystopia. The thought of men, women, even pets bulked up, wired, and armed to the teeth is scary; the thought of encountering them as venerated public figures, on view in the town square, is downright macabre.

Tom Moody