New York

Tom Waldron

Linda Durham Contemporary Art

For all their monumentality, Tom Waldron's welded-steel sculptures are oddly understated, perhaps because they are more broad than tall or because they feel scripted rather than spontaneous. The title of his recent exhibition, “The Character of the Equation,” suggests the mathematical basis of the work, the redetermination that contributes to its sedateness. Yet if Pounce doesn't pounce, Skid doesn't skid, and Dart doesn't dart, the five sculptures on view here (all 2001) do seem to be on the move, their curves and angles signaling some kind of upheaval. The massive Flood, with its pitching wavelike form, gives the game away: Waldron's sculptures are amorphous moments that have jelled into spaces; that is, they are fluxes that have become crystallized and becalmed.

Waldron's pieces have a certain luxurious look. Their shiny surface is as much a part of their story as their volume; in fact the surface seems to carry the space as much as the other way around. Without the beguiling sheen of the metal, the current of the curves and the breaks of the angles would seem tedious. Waldron's ambition, like that of many abstract sculptors, is to fuse the organic and the geometric without neutralizing either, but in his case the result is a compromise that saps both without maintaining the ambiguity that would enable the piece to succeed. The one sculpture that seems to work both as strong presence and subliminal metaphor is Loom, which indeed looms majestically and seems to embody an unnameable emotion, as great abstraction does. Loom is not simply grand but subtly intimidating, while Waldron's other sculptural “equations” tend to be rather coy. There is a certain perceptual irony in all of his works, for as their planes shift their balance seems to change, but in Loom the shift becomes an epiphany that transcends its own contradictions.

Waldron's sculpture has reached a cul de sac where it can only count the blessings of modernism without adding to them. It takes up space, but it does so without the insecurity inherent in modernist sculpture, the sense that space is uncanny and up for grabs, Modernist space is relative to its inhabitant rather than absolutely given, which is why it is unsettling, as we see in Cubism and Expressionism. In contrast, Waldron's sculptures are comfortable. They do not take a stand; they do nothing to change our sense of space, while the best modernist sculpture constructs space in the process of occupying it, dramatizing our uncertainty in a space that has become relative to us and so can never again be fixed. This is why modernist sculpture seems unpredictable, rather than forced, like Waldron's sculptures.

Donald Kuspit