José Pedro Croft, Untitled, 2012, wood, MDF, mirror, 7' 4 1/2“ x 16' 4 7/8” x 5' 1".

José Pedro Croft, Untitled, 2012, wood, MDF, mirror, 7' 4 1/2“ x 16' 4 7/8” x 5' 1".

José Pedro Croft

Appleton Square

José Pedro Croft, Untitled, 2012, wood, MDF, mirror, 7' 4 1/2“ x 16' 4 7/8” x 5' 1".

In a career now spanning more than thirty years, José Pedro Croft has constructed a visual and conceptual language that has begun to seem practically unshakable. Particularly in the past fifteen years, we have come to expect his work to be not just sculpture but more specifically metal structures with stainless-steel surfaces, sometimes painted or mirrored. Yet the recent project he developed with curator João Silvério for Appleton Square marks a clear change in his familiar materials and vocabulary.

Croft presented a new sculpture (all works Untitled, 2012) that is a reworking of a very large nineteenth-century table that once belonged to the former chemistry lab of the Faculty of Sciences, University of Lisbon. One end of the table has been cut off; the two parts of the tabletop have been displaced and are open, supporting each other in the air, like a house of cards. The top of the table still bears the marks of its previous use: Small scratches were made on the wood in order for glue to better hold its leather cover, which has now been removed, and there are holes throughout the length of the tabletop, where one imagines medical equipment or something similar had been placed and which disrupt the domesticity that might otherwise have been evoked when looking at a table.

Because of the way the table subdivides the space of the gallery, the first impression was one of disequilibrium, combined with a feeling of a magical tension, as the table appears to float weightlessly in the air. In reality, it sits on a tilted MDF surface that repeats the shape of the table. The tension continues with the mutually supporting tabletops, of which the viewer sees the face of one and the back of the other. As one moves around it, another dimension of the work is disclosed: The underside of one of the tabletops is covered with a mirror. A recurring element in Croft’s practice, the mirror multiplies the space, inverts the image of the table, incorporates views of its surroundings, and blurs the limits of the work. From this point of view, the spectator also discovers the indented base of the plinth that sustains the MDF structure.

The themes that have grounded Croft’s work persist in this new piece, particularly his continuous inquiry into the relationship between an object and the body of the viewer, the activation of architectural space, and the formal play of tensions within the object. On the other hand, making use of an object that bears the weight of its past life to the degree that this table does is very new to Croft. In the early 1990s, he appropriated simple everyday items such as chairs and stools, but never anything of this size, which surpasses the domestic scale of those previous objects, or with this depth of meaning. Just the sheer size of the table evokes a community, a shared space, and also an absence.

One floor down, in a separate room, Croft presented two drawings. Both reused test proofs kept from the process of making one of his aquatint engravings, on top of which he has drawn a multitude of lines to create intricate grids of planes, edges, and colors. The allusion to a past existence—in this case, an earlier instance of the artist’s own work—is the connecting link between the drawings and the sculpture. Reworking the past to form a new, more complex artistic language can be seen as the underlying idea of the entire show.

Filipa Oliveira