New York

View of “Pam Lins,” 2018. Photo: Stan Narten.

View of “Pam Lins,” 2018. Photo: Stan Narten.

Pam Lins

Rachel Uffner Gallery

View of “Pam Lins,” 2018. Photo: Stan Narten.

Three years ago, Pam Lins exhibited a series of sculptures made after photos of sculptures, including a group of ceramics based on late-1920s images of spatial models by students at the Vkhutemas (Higher State Artistic and Technical Studios) in Moscow. It was a conceptual conceit well suited to her rigorous explorations of the ways in which reproduction tends to dominate our experience of objects. More specifically, those works addressed how we often perceive sculptures as flat and frontal, even when we know full well they are dimensional, and how we prioritize their contours at the expense of their tactility. For the thirteen new sculptures in “she swipes shallow space by the slide drawer,” the artist has chosen a new source of imagery—early-twentieth-century photos of Renaissance sculptures by the art historian and photographer Clarence Kennedy—that productively complicates her earlier project.

With his gelatin silver prints, Kennedy attempted to provide students with a palpable sense of depth through stark lighting and unusual points of view. (He famously had his tripod retrofitted with a ladder so that he could compose a shot behind or directly above an artwork). The images were intended to rebut traditional techniques of photographing sculptures. His often bewildering close-ups of Antonio Rossellino’s Tomb of the Cardinal of Portugal, 1461–66, for example, emphasize the grace of the cardinal’s crossed hands and the delicate grasp of an angel holding a crown. From Kennedy’s portfolios, Lins takes those details that imply action (e .g., “joining” and “holding,” respectively, for the images described above; also “clutching,” “sliding,” “meeting,” as described in her titles) and recreates them as bas-reliefs in mountainous lumps of clay. In effect, she flattens out the same elements that so inspired Kennedy for their depth and tactility; her representations are shallow enough that they risk denying their three-dimensionality, even as they draw attention to moments of physical touch and implied movement. The backsides of the sculptures, however, have been painted in riotous colors that oppose the earthy wash on the front, encouraging the viewer to walk around them—a gesture that Kennedy would surely have appreciated and that Lins has used to powerful effect before.

Actually moving around the works, however, was not as easy as one might have expected. The sculptures rested on specially made stools placed together in a tight circle that surrounded a bright-blue powdered-steel tree with “leaves” of cast aluminum. Stepping between them was precarious, though not impossible, and observing the entire circle from a bit of a distance seemed far safer. The gallery itself, whose walls had been curved to make the space resemble a chapel niche, subtly stressed the circular movement around the central works. Thirty-six screen prints of a single slide drawer lined the walls like icons; each reproduction was made unique by the addition of different rectangles of Color-aid paper that had been tipped into the image where the labels for each drawer would have been. Lit by the diffused glow from a high skylight, the installation evoked a sense of the sacred—another nod to Kennedy. Yet because the sculptures all faced forward, anticipating the viewer, they seemed in part to reassert the very dichotomy of front and back that his, and Lins’s, approach strove to challenge. The aluminum leaves that hung from the blue tree in the center of their circle more clearly epitomized the artist’s interest in what is lost in the translation from one medium to another, and the ways in which we can learn from those mistranslations. Lins cast them in metal after making swiping gestures with her finger in sand, creating raised ridges from the depressions, scars that fixed and inverted the ephemeral and that served as a fertile reminder of the resilience of touch and the challenges in rendering it.

Rachel Churner