New York

View of “David Adamo,” 2013.

View of “David Adamo,” 2013.

David Adamo

Untitled

View of “David Adamo,” 2013.

Picking one’s way through Berlin-based sculptor David Adamo’s second solo exhibition at this gallery made one feel oddly like a goldfish in a domestic aquarium. Scattered across the floor—and oriented according to the directions they would face in nature—were a number of variously shaped but generally amorphous and sandy-colored waist-high peaks and accretions with the pitted, spongy look of undersea coral. Negotiating these clumps, which are actually cast from clay models in a synthetic plaster called Zellan, the viewer might almost have expected to encounter a tiny model shipwreck or a bubbling oxygen pump. Low lighting contributed to a submerged or subterranean feel; if these weren’t reefs, perhaps they were stalagmites?

In fact, the inspiration for Adamo’s new body of work was the termite mound, a natural marvel with obvious appeal to an artist interested in structural technicalities. And regarding said marvel, it was refreshing indeed to read a press release that largely dispenses with art language in favor of factoids. We learned, for example, that the mounds of the magnetic termite (Amitermes meridionalis) are “wedge-shaped, with their long axis oriented almost perfectly north–south; scientists suspect that the novel design provides a thermoregulatory apparatus” and that, in 2007, “NASA engineers used the termite mound as an analogous architectural model home capable of sustaining human life on Mars in the event of the encroaching future post apocalyptic fallout.”

The works fall under two subheadings, “Cathedral” and “Magnetic,” named for the types of termites responsible for the mounds on which each is modeled. Some are slablike mini-monoliths reminiscent of Monument Valley, others delicate spires; some have the look of clenched fists, others of pointing fingers. All appear ancient and weather-beaten, as if chipped from rugged mountainsides. The results bear a resemblance to the roughly whittled wood sculptures that Adamo presented in his 2011 show at this gallery, and that were also on view—rising up from a vast, faux-parquet floor comprised of carefully arranged blackboard chalk—in a concurrent show at Peter Freeman gallery, where Adamo exhibited his work alongside selections from James Castle’s archives.

Adamo’s purpose in presenting us with this array appears to be straightforwardly celebratory: “Aren’t termite mounds simply fascinating?” he seems to be saying. And it’s hard to deny that they are. But what, if anything, does this installation add to that wholly uncontroversial opinion? Is the artist aiming to foreground the mounds’ arguably overlooked ornamental qualities by surrounding the viewer with his personally selected top twenty? Or is his mission one of simply cataloguing animal- or plant-made forms with parallels in the human world? If so, what’s next? Beehives? Spiderwebs? Beaver dams?

In 1966, British artist John Latham directed his students at Saint Martin’s School of Art to masticate a library copy of Greenberg’s Art and Culture; he later distilled the resultant pulp into a clear liquid that he bottled, packaged, and attempted (in vain) to return to the institution’s stacks. The work, Still and Chew, got Latham in hot water professionally but demonstrated that something interesting could be made via a process of partial digestion. Adamo’s mounds are inspired by another, more prosaic (though in some ways equally sophisticated) use of gnawed wood but lack the types of allusive trains of thought and event that came together in Latham’s subversive project—and feel distinctly raw by comparison.

Michael Wilson