On ViewSuper Dutchess
February 20 – March 25, 2021
Bitter and misshapen, perhaps the crabapple has its reasons? Dmitri Hertz has reasons—ideas and sources that inform his sculptures—but the understated eccentricity of his work is so visually compelling that I was in no hurry to interpret these forms in terms other than their own. The handful of objects that make up his solo exhibition at Super Dutchess, curated by Wangui Maina and Mo Kong, range from casual and clunky to polished and precise. We find, installed in a tiny room with a glass front (which is actually a large storefront window), a huge snail shell with holes in it, some smooth and some rough lumps of wood, a long stick propped at a diagonal, and a few spiky orbs perched on eccentric supports. These works reveal a tender relationship to their materials, a sly sense of humor, and perhaps a touch of paranoia. Hertz’s sculptures appear straightforward and singular at first, but a quirky resonance emerges and develops as you linger with them. The magic of this show is that Hertz uses static sculptures to conjure the relentless pull of entropy against all bodies and systems. The conjoined humor and pathos of this fragile condition is the connective tissue that binds together these seemingly disparate works.
An irregular grid of thin wood strips hangs on the back wall of the space and gently instills a sense of order in the room. This work, Apple in the grass (2021), contains the most regimented structure in the show, but its many flimsy pieces sag noticeably out of square. A vibrant green stain accentuates the grain, and many knots are visible in the cheap lumber. This Home Depot-Mondrian feels at once silly and serious, an organizing tool barely strong enough to hold its shape. Despite the wonky geometry, the parts of this uneven matrix are joined with great care. Not simply nailed together, the pieces are notched and glued using tiny versions of the joints you would find on fancy furniture. This moment of obsessive and impractical craft indicates an interest in systems and structures that goes beyond outward appearance. How many more of these hyper-attentive fabrication decisions remain out of sight? Despite such passages of meticulous finish, Hertz also embraces the abject poetics of raw forms. A crudely chiseled lump of blonde wood perched on one of the horizontal pieces barely resembles an apple but manages to get your mind going in that direction. The little scoops out of its surface—from a chisel with a curved blade—make it look like it could have been made by an ambitious squirrel. It took me a minute to appreciate the humor implicit in rendering an apple through dozens of small bites. While this roughly hewn shape is physically contained by the green grid, it refuses to play by the rules of this systematized space. The apple has fallen from the tree into the grass, but it remembers its uncanny beginnings: delicately suspended just above the earth’s surface.
Towards the back left corner of the space, a stack of three ovoid sculptures sits atop a squarish pillow of rough concrete. A vibrant yellow stain and densely textured surface brought my eyes quickly to the uppermost orb. This roughly spherical shape appears covered in stubby and irregular little cylinders, like a huge sea anemone with a buzz cut. The sophistication of this form brought my mind back to high school biology class, and the checklist affirmed this hunch: the work is called Pollen, flower, pollen, dice, particle, rock (μm agglomerate 5) (2021). Including the abbreviation for a micron (one millionth of a meter) in the title implies a more-than-casual level of research into the source material for this form. This detail also adds significance to Hertz’s commitment to sculpting wood by hand. 3D printing is now widely available and many molecules more complex than pollen exist as digital models. Carving a gigantic pollen particle out of wood foregrounds the dynamic relationship between human bodies and the reproductive cycles of plants. Despite the size differential, this relationship goes both ways: pollen causes allergies, and industrialized agriculture (among other factors) is causing the collapse of pollinator species like bees, birds, and bats. The small variations in the otherwise uniform pattern of this sculpture instills human fallibility as a principle of the work. Below this giant yellow particle is a wooden oval made from greenish poplar with a dozen or so large spikes affixed to its surface. These chunky triangular protrusions cannot help but recall the distinctive shape of the coronavirus, a particle with disastrous consequences for human bodies and their equally fragile systems of cooperation. This charming, quasi-biological tower ultimately rests on a gigantic six-sided die made of shabby concrete. Four holes form a sloppy trapezoid on the side that’s most visible. Perhaps the most succinct symbol for chance, dice can be cruel—depending on what you’ve wagered.
Despite nodding to the random chaos at the heart of it all, the bizarre beauty of these sculptures testifies to the enduring virtue of patience and care. Hertz has put tremendous effort into his constructions so that they might reflect the exquisite configurations that emerge amidst this continuous slide towards disorder.