MICHAEL WERNER GALLERY | MAY 1 –JUNE 23, 2012
Aaron Curry has created an allover environmental installation for the relatively small gallery space at Michael Werner. Yet, despite the boundaries of a limited room, or perhaps because of them, he has successfully created an environment whose mixed influences demonstrate just how well the artist has done with internalizing other artists’ visions and making them his own. “Buzz Kill” (2012) consists of a room-sized, red aluminum stable, forming four smaller spaces through which visitors can move. The resulting installation is total in its exploratory forms, with hand-silkscreened cardboard imitating the exterior of the large red stable, or the sculptures found in each individual space created by the piece. The cardboard—placed on the floor, walls, and ceiling of the room—defines the extended effect of the installation, which genuinely transforms the room. Curry’s art mimics to some degree the artwork of modernism; clearly, the large red stable owes its inspiration to the art of Alexander Calder, although the former’s use is arguably more complex, owing to the intricacies of the environment. And the smaller sculptures, inhabiting each of the quadrants formed by the big aluminum structure, resemble the organic gestalt of a Noguchi work of art, with influences of Matta, the Chilean-born painter, thrown in.
The recognition of historical influence notwithstanding, Curry has come up with an environment that stands very much on its own merits. The main red structure fills the gallery space from floor to ceiling, with various curving cutouts that give it interest as a three-dimensional space. And the individual sculptures, either hanging on the wall or standing up independently on the silkscreened floor, do not look dated despite the relatively accessible traces of their origins. By creating a site-specific installation, Curry transforms his inspiration to the point where it takes on a face of its own. “Zuzz Tuk” (2012), for example, easily spans the gap between figurative and abstract modernism; the references to Noguchi are, again, unmistakable, as is the sense that we are seeing a standing person. Just under 12 feet high, “Zuzz Tuk” is supported by an aluminum base painted red; it has forms with holes and cuts run through them that help the artist build the sculpture by hanging components from extending arms. “Hang Head” (2012) includes a circle several inches wide, with marks painted on its open face, and hangs from a red, organically shaped panel that, in turn, is attached to a wall. In these smaller works, one clearly sees how Curry has reworked the principles of modernism into a contemporary format, whose staying power is extended by its newness of form. Curry does this so well that the state of the environment moves beyond scholarly quotation into a place of genuine creativity.
Even so, at least some of the impulse behind the imagery also maintains visible ties to the past. There is nothing wrong with this, especially since Buzz Kill is greater than the sum of its parts. Curry’s adept revisions ask the question so many sculptors have spoken out on: At what point do we leave the venerable halls of modernity and branch out on our own? Contemporary culture remains in dialogue with 20th-century achievements in a number of ways—not the least of which is a penchant for formal abstraction—and Curry’s images mimic the past without appropriating it. Even the exhibition’s major structure, imagistically quite close to Calder’s art, has been placed in a room covered with silkscreen prints, whose allover pattern links the space to more recent directions in sculpture and installation art. And “Zutz” (2012), another Noguchi-inspired work with a red aluminum base, revisits history so as to transform it. As a result, Curry’s work cannot be considered appropriation so much as it can be called a revision of the modernist canon, one whose formalism results in highly compelling art. As a totalizing environment, Buzz Kill makes it clear that the past is open to question, even when it serves as the basic materials for Curry’s eventful imagination.
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Jonathan Goodman is a teacher and author specializing in Asian art, about which he has been writing for more than twenty years.