Los Angeles

Michael Rashkow

China Art Objects

The stripped-down, rectilinear structures in “Quadrangles,” Michael Rashkow’s second solo show, flirt teasingly with Constructivism, combining geometric economy with precise but experimental facture. Having particular resonance with El Lissitzky’s Prouns of the early ’20s—two-dimensional works acting as “the station where one changes from painting to architecture”—the pieces here straddle flatness and inhabitable volume. They approach “the wall” as a thick substance, one that might be manipulated, moved through, or displaced.

Rashkow’s procedure was most clearly articulated in the south gallery at China Art Objects, where three constructions performed (in the artist’s words) “little wall activities,” proceeding incrementally from two dimensions to three. For Gauge (all works 2009), the artist cut a large square hole in the wall and fit a scratched sheet of aluminum snugly inside. Pentacore, installed on an adjacent wall, features a smaller opening of the same shape, out of which a square section of polypropylene honeycomb, bent at the diagonal, falls ever so slightly. Because the surface has been sliced, both embedded reliefs extrude the otherwise dormant substrate core and reveal the intramural density of the walls where they appear. Stanchion, however—the third “activity”—stepped gracefully into the room. An irregularly faceted stick of ebony, about two feet long, is suspended at an angle between two tenuous points of contact: One end rests on a wall; the other balances on a vertical length of rebar. The rebar itself rises from a poured-concrete-disc base, whose roundness reiterated the circular irregularities in the gallery’s patchwork wooden floor—sculptural detail anchored by architectural idiosyncrasy.

The quasi-architectural articulation of negative space beginning to develop in Stanchion is clearest in Quadrangle, a large and lanky freestanding sculpture that filled the north gallery. As audiences entered from the street, they were abruptly confronted with a rectangular section of white wall made from foam. This suspended partition connected to long poles fashioned from the exotic hardwood wenge, which were arranged to suggest in shorthand an awkward trapezoidal pavilion. On the opposite face of the blank slab was a thick section of gray foam, out of which a skewed egg-shaped void had been carved with a twisting, torquing elegance.

Conceiving his sculptures intuitively in situ, Rashkow invests each detail—the placement of every joint, joist, pivot point, tongue, groove, edge, gap, and veneer—with exacting attention. He also maintains a nearly ethical commitment to the antimonumental, pairing rare wood (wenge, ebony) with banal materials (concrete, rebar, and foam). Indeed, his intelligent riffs on Constructivism are countered by details that go against its grain: odd nuances and misshapen charm; sparse lines and off-kilter geometries. The tweaked formalism of the best works—Stanchion and Quadrangle—evinces an expressiveness and an endearingly dorky humor. Quadrangle, for example, includes a single, vertical piece of very tall rebar in its midst. Appearing at once flimsy and rigid, the metal is lodged in a concrete brick that anthropomorphizes the construction into a gawky, skinnier-than-Giacomettiesque figure with a ridiculous clubfoot. Such deceptive simplicity cultivates a dumb and sometimes almost romantic absurdity well illustrated by the artist’s old habit of obsessively bicycling more than sixty miles a day along the Southern Californian coast because he liked the sculptural character of his body as it leaned dynamically forward to form a triangle fused atop two whirring circles.

Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer