London

Gary Webb

Chisenhale Gallery

Opening the door onto Gary Webb’s exhibition “Deep Heat T-Reg Laguna,” one hesitated a moment in the face of its profusion of intense colors and unidentifiable forms. But once this fleeting moment of surprise passed, one discovered eight large sculptures, all reflected in, and fragmented and multiplied by, a wall covered in mirrored rectangles tilted in different directions. Gradually, the sculptures revealed themselves in their incredible strangeness. Mr. Miami, 2004, for example, is composed of a large curve of yellow metal placed on a shiny black form, from which slender stems rise bearing large pink, orange, and yellow blobs overhung by four small shapes made of colored glass in blue, pink, yellow, and black, into which loudspeakers have been inserted, diffusing discreet sound. Across the room, the pedestal of The Creator Has a Master Plan, 2004, forms a black elbow with a large, flat, pink form suspended beneath it. Above it, a bellowslike tube made of annulated black foam is mounted. This is lined with a lightweight, multicolored fabric visible from the front, while in the back, a fan lifts the pieces of golden fabric, making them float.

The six other sculptures in the show were similar in nature, offering the same resistance to description and contemplation: A single glance is not enough to understand formal paradoxes such as these works present. Webb’s artworks may be inscribed within a certain tradition of English sculpture, from Barbara Hepworth to Bill Woodrow, but they write a completely new chapter. Webb is more concerned with invention than skill; he doesn’t necessarily make his sculptures himself but often delegates parts of their execution to specialized craftsmen, so that the capacities of each material can better be explored. The materials Webb has chosen, moreover—Plexiglas, polyurethane, galvanized metal, plastic, synthetic fabrics—occupy a strategic place in his work. At once sophisticated and banal, they allow the artist to embrace contemporary reality in its most quotidian and tangible aspect without, however, having to submit to the dictates of representation. What’s more, the multiplicity of organic and mechanical forms in each of Webb’s sculptures allows them to elude abstraction as well. These unusual forms compose an alternative reality—starting with familiar materials—that is eccentric, inventive, complex, and witty. Like an alchemist full of optimism, Webb is capable of revealing fascinating creative stimuli even in the crassest of the forms and materials that surround us. His aggressiveness is directed not against these forms and materials but rather against the drab ordering of our existences. Each of his sculptures is an invitation to take what is imposed on us and divert it to our benefit—a joyous invitation to piracy. As he proves with this, his biggest show so far, Webb does not allow himself to be restrained, either out of good taste or habit, but is capable of giving his imaginative vitality a masterly form.

Anne Pontégnie

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.