View of “Eva Rothschild,” 2014. Left: Honeymoon, 2014. Foreground and background: Fall, Fall, and Falling, 2014. Middle ground: Lantern, 2014.

View of “Eva Rothschild,” 2014. Left: Honeymoon, 2014. Foreground and background: Fall, Fall, and Falling, 2014. Middle ground: Lantern, 2014.

Eva Rothschild

Stuart Shave Modern Art

View of “Eva Rothschild,” 2014. Left: Honeymoon, 2014. Foreground and background: Fall, Fall, and Falling, 2014. Middle ground: Lantern, 2014.

She’d already been profusely exhibited in British galleries and institutions for at least five years by then, but my initial encounter with Eva Rothschild’s sculpture was via “Early One Morning: British Art Now.” That 2002 Whitechapel Gallery exhibition proposed a link between some of the rising sculptors of that moment—along with Rothschild, they included Shahin Afrassiabi, Claire Barclay, Jim Lambie, and Gary Webb—and the artists associated with the new British sculpture of the 1960s: Anthony Caro (from whose wonderful 1962 piece the Whitechapel borrowed the title), Phillip King, Tim Scott, and so on. While the effort to lend pedigree to the up-and-comers and contemporary credibility to some out-of-fashion elders might have been as unconvincing as it was well-intentioned, what was clear was that there was still a widely felt need to take formal and material heterogeneity as in itself a primary means for metaphorical (rather than directly referential) engagement with the present.

“What the Eye Wants,” Rothschild’s recent exhibition inaugurating Stuart Shave’s grand new Clerkenwell exhibition space, showed that the Irish-born artist is still playing much the same game, but putting even more wit and skill into it. The range of her sculptural vocabulary is impressive—the works can be linear, planar, volumetric, or any combination thereof, compact or dispersed—and did I mention the precision with which she uses color? Yet the work is more than just the arbitrary accumulation of bric-a-brac so common in sculpture these days; it represents a coherent investigation of form. It’s also tricky enough to demand that the viewer do more than just passively enjoy the colorful forms. You also want to think through the structure of their relations. I suspect the unspoken continuation of the show’s title must have been “May Not Be What It Gets.”

Rothschild’s willingness to play bait-and-switch with the viewer’s expectations was probably most evident in some of my favorite pieces in the show—Prismatics, Complication, and Tir Na nÓg (all works 2014). Each of these rectangular open constructions, a little over eight feet tall with, at mid-height, a kind of shelf supporting a cluster of vaguely allusive abstract forms along with others that appear to have been cast from everyday objects, adds up to something like a kind of post-Cubist still life; beneath the shelf, as if defying gravity, a second constellation of shapes seems to mirror the one standing right-side up. A second look reveals that the two still lifes are, in fact, not quite the same. However, to determine exactly how they differ—to make sense of the slight variations in color or orientation, that one array has been shifted by ninety degrees, for example—entails having to crouch down and from an awkward position examine more closely the part of the sculpture one had originally been disposed to simply register as “the same.”

Sometimes, on the other hand, it’s one’s impression that things are not the same that needs revising. The largest—or, in any case, most extensive—of the sculptures in the show was Lantern, which is made of painted aluminum rods loosely joined by iron rings. The rods roughly demarcated a closed zone in one room, encircling some of the other sculptures and leaving others on the outside. But at certain points, the rods on the floor also connect to structures that, while similarly constructed, hang lengthwise from the ceiling; one’s tendency is to see these vertical formations as individual sculptures. But they’re not—they’re merely subsections of the singular Lantern. Rothschild has spoken of her interest in the way “we have all these projections that we put onto something and the thing doesn’t respond.” Perhaps Rothschild’s works can best be read as abstract fables about the world’s indifference to what our eyes want—and how that resistance to our desires can be a source of pleasure rather than frustration.

Barry Schwabsky