March 20 – April 24, 2010
Question: What’s beige, 216 cubic inches, sits on a table, defies you to try to describe it in words, scares the hell out of you, and your corpus callosum wants to take out on a date to a sci-fi film festival in another dimension? Answer: One of Bill Albertini’s futuristic numbered “Space Frame” sculptures, at the Martos Gallery through April 24, 2010.
Make no mistake: these computer-generated (and fabricated) pieces of plastic are anything but sterile, kitschy or frivolous. In fact, it’s their organic molecular presence, their biological and architectural plumbing, their fine art pedigree, their definitive je ne sais quoi, that give them the compact power that makes them seem, well, actually, alive.
Space Frame Redux marks Albertini’s return to human dimensional space after an extended foray into computer simulation. Albertini’s early work, B.C. (Before Computer), was at environmental scale, in metal, glass, plastic and wood. Early technology explorations led to a series of visual evocations based on stills from Andrei Tarkovsky’s film adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris. A decade or so spent creating elegant, unrealized organic forms has given way to the plastic—in the sense of that word as physical, palpable and malleable.
Albertini’s space frames are, perhaps not surprisingly—given his three-decade career and intellectual methodology—highly referential. The lights are on, and this artist is very definitely at home. Albertini relates his sculptures to works by painter Francis Bacon (cf. “Study for a Portrait” of 1952) and sculptor Alberto Giacometti (cf. “The Cage” of 1949-50); indeed, his “space frames” represent an evolution in the continuum of visual culture. Circling them to gain the full dimensional, dysmorphic effect, one immediately associates—with delicious irony—the organic nude 19th-century neoclassical marble sculptures in the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum, all likewise begging to be circumambulated. Albertini’s pale organic shapes evoke these beauties as deflated dolls, distorted jetsam floating through silent space, perhaps a kind of fluid, twisted taffy? And nice Cezanne bowls of apples, except collapsed and moldy, ergot, cream; or the naughty Duchamp encaged marble cubes, cuttlebone and thermometer in “Why not Sneeze, Rose Sélavy?” of 1921.
Duchamp the perfect metaphor, because Albertini’s “Space Frames,” like the former’s white stone cubes, aren’t the sweet little sugared somethings they seem to be. In an age of sculpture of scale, they are intentional miniatures, begging the question of why—gotcha. Their soundless presence is maddening: one wants them to explain themselves, to recombine into something resembling something, to a recognizable anything, to play fair with our feeble brains. This is art doing what it’s supposed to do: to be something we haven’t experienced before, to challenge our expectations, to find ourselves coming up short of processing power. Checkmated. This isn’t your father’s representational art, nor is it “conceptual,” nor “post-” anything, nor “personal”: it’s conjured, and everything that that infers.
And then there’s Hans Arp and Yves Tanguy and Henry Moore—and more, as the human mind grapples with the fluid organic, the human eye follows the motive curve, the rare birdcage, the stimulant abstraction. Comparisons to Orozco’s organic mesh recently at MoMA, and of course industrial and architectural matrices likewise come to mind. One could go on: this work is richly allusive, an infinite, Borgesian visual encyclopedia.
It’s also worth making another comparison, with Urs Fischer’s organic aluminum castings recently on view at the New Museum. Unlike these, which convey an impression of risible, Duchampian slag or winking wreckage, Albertini’s “miniatures” seem manicured, meticulous, intentional. Although the abstract forms may appear similar (in fact, Fischer’s behemoths were fabricated from maquettes), there is a world of difference in intension. There may be no point here, however, in comparing boulders to songbirds, or klaxons to agates.
Albertini’s presentation of these singular objects on oversized tables is also notable: they are close enough to examine, yet slightly aloof. Variations suggest themselves: encasement in glass cylinders, for instance, to accentuate their otherworldliness, or suspended, or in motion, lit, to enable 360-degree appreciation. On the other hand, in not suspending, Albertini maintains a certain facet of mystery: the root foundation inaccessible.
The exhibition also includes a composited wall-sized collage of space frame images in liquid deep electric crimson. One immediately has the sense of the replicant possibilities—chromatic and material—of this work, from transparent to laval.
Perhaps in the end, Albertini’s counterintuitivity is the genius of these things: They look like they were formed by hand in a remedial, therapeutic setting, when in fact they were not only created—using 3-D modeling software—but also fabricated—in ABS plastic, using the “fused deposition modeling” process—electronically. “Fused deposition modeling” is a fancy way of saying they grow upward in layer upon deposited layer. The paradox of ultraorganic art untouched by human hands adds to their intrigue. Unpainted, they have a somewhat slippery, altogether haptic, blobby, moist clay-modeled presence, contained within a geometrically and diametrically esthetically opposed space frame matrix. Viewers who will see this as “machine” art will miss the point: that this stuff isn’t limited in scale, that mystery endures, that the mind and hand still hold the tools (whether paintbrush, chisel or code). And that in Bill Albertini, the art of the merger of the human and the cloud is well underway.