New York

View of “Evan Holloway,” 2017. Photo: Steven Probert.

View of “Evan Holloway,” 2017. Photo: Steven Probert.

Evan Holloway

Paula Cooper Gallery | 529 West 21st Street

View of “Evan Holloway,” 2017. Photo: Steven Probert.

Still indelibly associated with Los Angeles, sculptor Evan Holloway broke through in the late 1990s by combining high-modernist form with subcultural and mundane imagery, manifesting a nimble strand of post-Pop that revealed the clear influence of his former teacher Charles Ray. But while Holloway’s artistic lineage is readily apparent, a certain lightness of touch continues to set him apart from his predecessors and extend his influence beyond the West Coast. Holloway is that rare artist who can address the state of the natural world without preaching, and the condition of the built environment without merely parroting extant forms.

Dominating the main space at Paula Cooper Gallery were five new sculptures of potted plants matched with various basic shelves and lamps (all works 2017). Modeled in steel, cardboard, and an instant papier-mâché called CelluClay, then painted in Cel-Vinyl, they resemble wax crayon drawings made flesh. The mottled coloration of the plants’ coarse surfaces gently simulates the effect of artificial illumination, while their apparent dependency on attendant hardware hints at a lockstep relationship between the organic and the technological. At once rough-cut and well-crafted, the sculptures chopped up the space around them in intriguing ways, inviting us to peer over, around, and through them in search of a more complete view. There was a neat push-pull, too, between the upward reach of the plants and the virtual light “descending” on them.

Surprisingly, Holloway hasn’t been the subject of a solo exhibition in New York since 2010, so it was fitting that this occasion saw him revisit his stick sculptures, the works that first garnered him serious attention here. Like other recent entries in the group, Plumb A + B and Late Afternoon are made from bronze casts of found tree branches assembled into incongruously right-angled structures and painted multiple bright colors of glossy enamel and oil. They’re effortlessly beguiling things, deceptively simple fusions of nature and nurture that suggest errant subway diagrams or homegrown computer circuits. The title and composition of the latter also nod to Anthony Caro’s Early One Morning, 1962, as Holloway riffs on the earlier sculpture’s hard-edged arrangement of red-tinted aluminum and steel.

Also included were three other sculptures. Bones and Naming the Animals are slender vertical fingers of steel and plaster that from a distance resemble coral or some other organic formation. On looking closely, however, one learns that their pale surfaces are studded with hundreds of spent batteries. These form an unlovely agglomeration, made additionally unpleasant by the batteries’ slow leaching of toxic chemicals into their pallid supports. Even more than Holloway’s trees and plants, these unsettling works hammered home the exhibition’s environmentalist slant. Its critique of late-capitalist profligacy was embodied, too, by the dizzying spectrum of battery brands on display, a reminder—if one were needed—that we continue to prioritize industrial competition over big-picture thinking around sustainability and conservation.

Finally, Loop with Benzoin Incense is a Möbius strip rendered in fiberglass, epoxy resin, and talc. Its scrubbed-gray surface has the look of artificial stone, giving it the too-photogenic mien of an ersatz Henry Moore, but more disruptive than the work’s appearance is the aroma of the titular incense that burns continually on one of its lower surfaces. Lent a subcultural charge that’s also unexpectedly visceral, Loop revisits yet again the oft-mooted connection between artistic creativity and spiritual or otherwise altered states of mind, and does so in a style that’s oddly endearing.

Michael Wilson