New York

Andreas Slominski

Metro Pictures

Considering the current climate in New York, it is mildly surprising that Andreas Slominski’s first show here wasn’t shut down by the ASPCA. I can see the headlines now, hear the mayor’s heartfelt vows of support to all the city’s anguished animal lovers. With one exception, the sculptures on view take the form of traps for snaring a menagerie of prey—dogs, cats, fowl, even red deer—though I doubt they ever have been or will be used as such. It is aestheticians, not animals, who are liable to come to grief here.

Why? Because even just to say “sculpture in the form of animal traps” points to the curious way in which Slominski twists the notion of “form.” Form, to some degree synonymous with shape or structure, may be dialectically related to matter, particularly in sculpture; to color, particularly in painting; to function, particularly in architecture and design; and in all fields to content. In the seventeen traps on display here, which date from 1995 to the present, form (in the sense of shape or structure) is absolutely distinct from one piece to the next, as are material and color: There are rectilinear and curvilinear structures, as well as essentially amorphous ones (like Rat Trap, 1995, made of an Ethiopian coffee sack). There are also closed forms like Wood Fowl Trap, 1998, a tall cylindrical structure made out of three stacked green metal barrels and topped (if the nearby smaller Bird Trap, 1999, is any indication) by a pan holding birdseed, rigged so that a bird perching to feed will tump the pan and be dropped unceremoniously into the top barrel. And there are open forms, like Little Vermin Trap, 1997, whose rough-hewn logs and industrial palette make up what essentially looks like a traditional mousetrap, though on a grand scale.

And so on. Slominski is nothing if not resourceful, even ingenious, in his straightforward deployment of multitudinous everyday materials and objects, and so each trap is a singular invention (a better mousetrap being, of course, the ne plus ultra of invention). Yet each sculpture takes the form of a trap, not the function. In other words, the fact that they could function is no more than an incidental, one might almost say ornamental, detail. The function as such is not the point, despite all its thematically creepy overtones, but exists in order to create the formal challenge that unites an otherwise miscellaneous group of sculptures. It’s not that their disturbing overtones should be discounted, but that you just have to learn to deal with them sufficiently to see how vague and indeterminate they are in comparison to the precision with which formal decisions have been invested here.

So these sculptures unsettle one’s sense of the relation between form and function. What about the more general relation between form and content? Well, the content of a trap is nothing other than the animal that is caught inside—unless you count the bait. Does that make these traps (at least the majority in which no bait is visible) empty of content? Better to say that the idea of the trapped animal that the works propose functions as bait for the mind. In any case, there are cruel traps with fearsome spikes and “humane” ones that look like comfy little houses; stealthy traps and obvious ones; some refined and some apparently offhand. The emotional content of trapping and being trapped, it seems, is endlessly variable, and it has as little to do with unity of function as do the various shapes and materials through which that function can be achieved. Form itself is the snare Slominski has set.

Barry Schwabsky