Los Angeles

Michael O’Malley


In Michael O’Malley’s recent untitled sculptures, slim birch cubbies resembling book slipcovers act as hubs of an airy network of wooden ducts and tubes; each self-contained system is suspended above the gallery floor. The blond-wood ductworks produce their own web of associations: We think of modernist and modern-ish furniture design from Mies to Eames to IKEA; the paintings of Piet Mondrian and Peter Halley; programming flowcharts and wiring schematics; the negative spaces of ant and gopher colonies, or mines and subways, converted into positive form. When you succeed in ignoring their dependence on the gallery ceiling and walls—they’re suspended midair by steel or aluminum rods that are light but still a little too clunky—the works take on a sense of circuitry or plumbing liberated from its host body or structure. In some instances, small cast-aluminum forms suggest rocks or landscape elements. Slots in both hubs and conduits suggest a relationship to conventional architectural elements (windows, doors) while also hinting more broadly at the technological, the metaphysical, the social, and the erotic.

Plays of interior and exterior, positive and negative, absence and presence define the work, as absent content (say, books) necessitates tiny empty spaces (compartments, corridors) that take positive form (boxes, tubes) and function as line and shape carving up the air around them. The show’s massive centerpiece, floating at a level that compels one to bob and weave among its angling tubes, conflates different ways of engaging and looking: moving around the object (as we do with sculpture), being outside, imagining, peering inside it (as we do with architectural models), and physically navigating it (as we do with actual architecture and installation).

Though it’s perhaps hard to imagine this pale wood being so evocative or seductive, the piece does tempt you to stick your fingers in a hole or two. The more you peer into the openings, an activity that requires a great deal of neck craning, the more you want to continue your probe. The piece taps into the part of us that wants to plug in, hook up, and play the ins and outs—in antiseptic or mundane contexts as well as the most sensual or fantastic. The work becomes an odd metaphor for a world in which a basic human sense of need weaves our modems to our synapses to our loins within a single cultural web.

Christopher Miles