New York

Katy Schimert

David Zwirner | 519 West 19th Street

CASTS OF ANTIQUE STATUARY have formed the backbone of artists' education since the late Renaissance. Gathered in laboratory-like settings of ateliers and arts academies across Europe and the Americas, such figurative models demonstrate the standards of excellence according to which generations of artists learn the classical idioms of beauty and perfection. Katy Schimert takes this paradigm as a starting point for her investigations of the classical tradition's pervasive influence on our cultural psyche. For her recent exhibition she sculpted various body parts in clay, cast them in ceramic, and glazed them to an opalescent gunmetal finish, then used them as modular elements in two distinct yet interdependent installations (all works 2001). The arrangement in the first gallery evoked the sterile presentation typical of study collections. On a series of pedestals Schimert offered an arm, male and female heads and torsos (Venus de Milo-style), and internal organs including the heart, brain, and lungs. The uniform dark color, smooth surface, and softened edges where the limbs terminated unified the disparate elements under a singular conceptual rubric and suggested that these are analytical studies, more mannequin than corpse.

In the second installation the serene and studious atmosphere was radically transformed: Here the fragments were heaped in a large pile, evoking all-too-familiar images of war, with corpses ready to be tossed into a mass grave. Untitled (Pile) challenges the viewer to enter into a more complex understanding of the possibility of multiple readings engendered by the same vocabulary of forms. Carnage frozen in porcelain? Vestiges of classicism violently cast out in a garbage dump? Both at once? In its conflation of the antiseptic and the visceral, the scenario recalls de Chirico's 1916 painting La Guerra (The war), in which models idle in the artist's studio adorned in classical costumes while looking bored and uninterested in the grand themes their arrangement is meant to depict.

The interpretive complexity insinuated by these works was deepened by the ink-and-watercolor drawings hanging in the room connecting the two installations. Here male and female bodies were entangled in a melee of silhouettes and colorful spectral diffusions. Many seem to be shadowy souls intruded upon by the other figures' arms and legs. These scenes, with their passionate-violent embraces, are reminiscent of Matta's drawings from the '40s, which depicted men and women copulating in an orgiastic frenzy. In Untitled (one killing another), one figure pulls a sinewy red tether from another's stomach. On the victim's midsection, an aureole of red, yellow, and purple looks at once like a rainbow sunburst and the fluids of bloody entrails. The pictorial ambiguity suggests not only death but also violent passions; the image could equally be subtitled “tugging heartstrings.”

These drawings suggest the rich nuances and possibilities encoded in Schimert's polysemous imagery. Each work seems to reinvent the implications of the sculptural components as meaning and inference are transported between installations. Context is everything here, be it between the sexes, between nations, or between present and past.

Kirby Gookin