New York

Donald Lipski

Donald Lipski has steadfastly bucked the waves of Conceptualism that have refueled sculpture during the last two decades. Apart from grouping his idiosyncratic renderings according to the most general object- or process-related axes, the latter-day surrealist has rejected metaphorical reference in his work as a rule—content rather to recast the quotidian, finding the sublime in the transformation and permutation itself, not in an altered object’s meaning. Yet over the last ten years Lipski’s work has gradually begun to explore themes, synthesizing in the process the poetic and unfamiliar associations of his earlier assemblages.

Lipski’s early sculpture involved a process of accumulation. At first he used household items like matchsticks, rubber bands, paper clips, or shreds of rope, and then began to include larger objects twisted, woven, or embedded in some other material (a sampling of his ’80s work was concurrently on view at John Gibson). This conversion of the commonplace elevated the rectified readymade to an almost pictorial realm, as it emphasized the abstracted nature of his recycled objects, especially when hung on the wall. With his early-’90s flag series the artist began to move into a more symbolic mode, as he eschewed the found object and began to develop large, fabricated installation pieces with metaphorical references.

This direction was evident in Lipski’s show at Galerie Lelong, “Exquisite Copse.” By eliding the “r,” he inflects the arbitrariness of the Surrealists’ “exquisite corpse” with intentionality and specificity of reference. Having recently crowned the new Grand Central Station Market with an immense inverted-tree chandelier (Sirshasana, 1999), Lipski continues to explore new ways to reinvest the arboreal with surrealist whimsy and more than a touch of artifice. Here he has teamed up with Jonquil LeMaster (referred to in the press release as the “world’s foremost artificial tree builder”) to create variously shaped and truncated cast-resin logs and limbs in unerring trompe l’oeil detail.

“Exquisite Copse” is at its best when it plays on the notion of the natural. In loop after twisted knot, nature’s caprice is tamed in this arbor of bark-covered symmetries and geometric shapes. Such culturally determined forms are presented alongside other works whose assemblages are reminiscent of the artist’s earlier, more explicitly surrealist and playful nature. But while a tree stump housing an old doorknob and lock, limbs enveloping shears or a pickax, or a two-legged stump standing in high tie-up boots help transform the gallery into a dreamscape, they also run the risk of being experienced merely as visual gags. In Exquisite Copse No. 13 (all works 2000), for example, baseballs are embedded in a large log on the floor (perhaps a temporal conflation of the narrative of a wooden bat), a concept whose execution falls flat. However, in Exquisite Copse No. 14, where a horizontal limb houses a long glass rod resembling a thermometer, the ideas of dialectical system (nature/ culture) and gauge (aesthetics) dove-tail beautifully within the form. Or in Exquisite Copse No. 11, a wall piece that hangs from a hook, the sculptor pits the compositional balance of a teasingly anthropomorphic form against the natural force of gravity.

With such work Lipski presents sculpture that no longer states itself irreducibly as fact, but rather forces us to question the implications of its form.

Mason Klein