Los Angeles

Joel Morrison

ACE Gallery

In his second exhibition at Ace, Joel Morrison enlarges on the promise suggested in his first show, presenting a series of oddball objects based on heads and torsos that dive into the seemingly tired history of formalist sculpture and painting and dredge up refreshing and quirky treasures.

In both process and product, Morrison pits rapid-fire and rough against meticulously slow and refined. His latest sculptures, which combine fluid and jerky contours in organic/machine, anthropomorphic/technomorphic forms, give the impression of skins stretched over moving parts pushing from the inside out; they are born of a process in which the artist cobbles together simple armatures of discarded cans and random found objects and wraps them in layers of foam and tape. The shapes are then cast, or in some cases entombed, in fiberglass. The resulting forms still divulge traces of what went into them along with the spontaneity of their generation, but their immediacy and intensity are slowed and cooled in the smooth, sanded surfaces.

In Thunderbird Blue Bird (A Head) (all works 2002), the slickness and sense of finish are emphasized with a clean, even coat of turquoise enamel and a spit polish. Bison (Torso), Bouquet (A Torso), and Torso with Giant Head, meanwhile, offer a double dose of energy with the distilled fiberglass forms given glassy finishes and then attacked again with webs of multicolored vinyl tape and sloshes of boldly hued paint. Untitled, meanwhile, exists as a trace or echo of the original form: It is a clear fiberglass shell full of air, describing a void once filled by mass. Bases are essential here—Morrison creates custom pedestals that amplify the tense, comical, and performative attitude of the sculptures. Some are low, solid, skewed boxes, like platforms on which a circus animal might dance, while others, particularly those that hold sculptures that are wider at the top than at the bottom, are tall columns whose cross-sections are shaped to match the footprint of the works that stand on them. This makes the sculptures seem elevated and precious, but at the same time confined and precarious.

Morrison both kicks at and kisses the proverbial behinds of a host of modernist sculptors, particularly Jacques Lipchitz, Constantin Brancusi, Alberto Giacometti, Barbara Hepworth, and Henry Moore. He also riffs on the more expressionistic and process-based forms of Peter Voulkos, early Richard Serra, Lynda Benglis, and the sculptural experiments of Willem de Kooning as well as the dynamism and geometry of Anthony Caro and the experimental-formalist spirit of Robert Morris. But Morrison's savvy extends beyond offering simply an edgy reverent/irreverent update of formalist concerns (which would be satisfying in itself). Like the forebears he references, whose work too often is funneled into a purely formalist through line, Morrison clearly sees his objects as opportunities to explore attitudes and responses not just to other art but to the world. Clumsy, graceful, safe, threatened, heroic, pathetic, svelte, chubby, serious, silly, volatile, calm—each of these pieces evokes states one has known at one time or another, looking in the mirror, walking down the street, or daydreaming.

Christopher Miles