All About the Alloy

The echoes of Rosalind Krauss’ 1979 article, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field” still reverberate in our museums, parks, and galleries. Before the 19th century, sculpture was often bound to a specific location – its ponderous pedestal fused it to the ground, connecting a figurative image with its commemorative site. However, and as Krauss deduces, there came a time when sculpture began to evolve and absorb the cumbersome pedestal. The field ruptured, and from the fissures emerged nomadic abstractions. Modern sculpture became “homeless,” able to showcase its materials or process of construction, instead of merely conveying the meaning of its site[1]. Indeed, Krauss’ article is over three decades old – but I think its continued resonance is indicative of the questions still posed by contemporary sculpture.

Wrought, which shows now through August 8th at the Downtown Arts Center in Lexington, exemplifies (yet, also challenges) many of the underlying themes posited by Krauss. Material and process become subject matter, hence the exhibition’s referential title.

Andy Light, Miasmata (detail), steel. Photo by Angel Clark.

Andy Light, Miasmata (detail), steel. Photo by Angel Clark.

Andy Light, Miasmata (detail), steel. Photo by Angel Clark.

Wrought exhibition at the City Gallery at the Downtown Arts Center, Lexington, KY. Photo by the author, Elizabeth Ann Smith.

Wrought exhibition at the City Gallery at the Downtown Arts Center, Lexington, KY. Photo by the author, Elizabeth Ann Smith.

Erika Strecker, Colloquial, Copper, steel, string. Photo by the author, Elizabeth Smith.

Gordon Gildersleeve, The Key to Breaking the Ice, stainless steel, oak, acrylic resin. Photo by the author, Elizabeth Smith.

Wrought brings together eighteen works of metal by four locally based sculptors: Gordon Gildersleeve, Andy Light, Rod Lindauer, and Erika Strecker. Ranging in scale from massive constructions of steel to small hanging forms, each work maintains conceptual autonomy while at the same time contributing to the aesthetic theme of worked steel. Some works are more representational – Gildersleeve’s Goat and Chicken loosely convey their original subjects’ features. Other sculptures channel 1960’s minimalism, like Strecker’s exceptionally crafted Uplift. In sum, Wrought engages with broad and longstanding discourse.

The Downtown Arts Center is a large building, but finding Wrought is no challenge. Andy Light’s Miasmata, which dominates the first-floor entrance, creates a certain distance with its audience. Because of its top-heavy structure, one has to maneuver around its oppressive and cavernous architecture. Parts of Light’s sculpture are almost completely inaccessible: a closer inspection renders it a maze of steel with nooks and crannies for shadows to hide.  However reclusive in its entirety, the sculpture’s details prove visually rewarding. Miasmata bears the scars of its making, with eye-catching seams, scrapes, and distinct tonal abrasions.

The gallery’s front window is home to two of Lindauer’s stainless steel sculptures, and their placement is well calculated. Rays interacts with both the outside sunlight and the architecture of Main Street. The sculpture’s luminous surface seems to react to – instead of merely reflect – its surroundings. Beneath the slender beams of metal lies a slab of marble (although this is not listed in the object label.) Dependent on the time of day, the marble’s surface acts as a mirror. It responds to the sunlight and depicts a reverse image of the adjacent buildings. Lindauer’s Time After Time, made of the same slinky stainless steel, rests against the nearest corner. Although borderline kitsch, the oversized infinity symbol projects intriguing shadows on the gallery wall.

Although some works require less space, they are just as engrossing. Three of Strecker’s hanging sculptures, What a Tool, Ascent, and Colloquial, stand out in their excellence. Perhaps it is their minimalist aesthetic – simple lines, shapes, and solid craftsmanship – that showcase the steel’s versatility as a material. Her work could be seen as an attempt to recapture, or perhaps redefine, what it means to work with metal. In Strecker’s diverse sculptures, steel is successfully incorporated with other organic materials – gold, wood, and copper – to create intriguing combinations of color and texture.

Gildersleeve’s sculptures range from small abstracted animals to a psychedelic loveseat, but his conceptual works shape steel into more interesting forms. The Key to Breaking the Ice utilizes early modernist principles. Like the majority of the freestanding sculptures in Wrought, his medium-sized works project layered geometric shadows contingent on the natural and artificial gallery light.

Wrought is well produced, but parts of its underlying theme get lost in the odd commercial setting of the back corner. I was unsure if the posters and accompanying postcards, located in the back nook of the gallery, were included in the show. In addition, Strecker’s lamp, Effervesce II, seems misplaced entirely. It ultimately detracts from the cohesive visuals evident throughout the entrance, and seems an odd fit when compared to the rest of her exhibited sculpture.

A first walk-through proved frustrating, as there are no artist statements or pieces of information available to provide context. However, this seems to reflect the modernist conundrum Krauss describes in “Sculpture in the Expanded Field.” Without context (or “pedestals”), maybe Wrought is meant to non-verbally showcase the multifaceted medium of steel and the many ways it can be shaped.

[1] See Rosalind Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” October 8 (Spring 1979), 30-44.