Matt Paweski, trap/TRAP, 2017, aluminum, copper rivets, vinyl paint, 8 × 15 3/8 × 8".

Matt Paweski, trap/TRAP, 2017, aluminum, copper rivets, vinyl paint, 8 × 15 3/8 × 8".

Matt Paweski

Matt Paweski, trap/TRAP, 2017, aluminum, copper rivets, vinyl paint, 8 × 15 3/8 × 8".

Artists using a modernist-influenced vocabulary these days tend to pointedly downplay grandiosity. The functional look of Matt Paweski’s sculptures might have something do with this tendency (he also designs furniture). So does the works’ small scale, which gives them the feeling of models or proposals rather than final statements.

Materially speaking, Paweski’s new work seems to derive in part from the monochrome-painted metal sculptures of Anthony Caro or Phillip King. But its deepest affinity with 1960s modernism might be related to what Michael Fried, writing about Caro in 1963, called “gesture.” For Fried, the juxtapositions of gravity-defying shapes in Caro’s work embodied archaic or prelinguistic gestures that, “in their fundamental physicality, are analogous to those on which all language, all expression are ultimately founded.” For Caro, such an approach had little to do with “composition.” This might point to an immediate difference in Paweski’s case, if composition is taken to imply balance. There is, in fact, a certain kind of anti-compositional bias in these works, insofar as they partly embody the Minimalist insistence on stasis and completion. Each piece is more or less symmetrical. But the degree of symmetry matters, and a different kind of significance creeps into those shapes that do not find an exact echo elsewhere.

Paweski’s recent show featured ten tabletop sculptures and four drawings, all from 2017. At the center of each piece was a thick aluminum rectangle, either upright or parallel to the table. Thinner curved surfaces cut from tubes have been inserted through or else attached laterally to this rectangle by thin bookend-like panels of various shapes, which were fixed perpendicular to the edges of the central panel by copper rivets, or, in the case of Nude, aluminum ones. Where shapes had been removed from these panels, the cut in some places continued past the edge of the negative space, leaving lines that echoed the geometrical drawings from which each piece originated. All the pieces but one were painted with monochrome vinyl paint, giving them the plastic veneer of office supplies.

The use of a few basic shapes and materials gives the works a systematic feel, while the shapes themselves often have an accidental look, as of discarded material from which parts have been removed in the process of making some other object. The works’ near symmetry, within fairly static arrangements, might seem to counteract the possibility of “gesture” in Fried’s sense—one might think of how the symmetry of Robert Morris’s felt pieces helped, along with their surrender to gravity, to give them their mute literalness. And yet the works are only partly systematic, their muteness qualified by an improvisatory way with shape and embellishment, so that what is expressive and even pictorial in Paweski’s work is more affecting for its quiet unobtrusiveness, its reliance upon a straitened, “minimal” vocabulary. Both Char and Butterfly contain shapes readable as semiquavers (a possibly unpremeditated reference), while Plush Edges, Reverse Bouquet, and Slots (Regal) feel like architectural models of elegant bunkers or atria, and almost ask to be experienced from the inside. But in the most interesting pieces here, especially trap/TRAP and Reverse Bouquet, Paweski achieved a transformation of the materials in which pictorial, literal, and architectural readings are all viable as aspects of a mimetic, nonfigurative gestural language. While the least symmetrical works did this best (Phoenix being perhaps the weakest on account of its overstated symmetry), it’s the common use of symmetry and modularity that allows the individual works, by exceeding these limitations, to exceed their own objecthood.

Patrick Price