Ursula von Rydingsvard: LUBA
On ViewGalerie Lelong & Co.
October 27–December 17, 2022
When the cedar is fresh and you first cut into it, Ursula von Rydingsvard has said, the wood inside is pink, like “flesh.” Perhaps this is part of the reason why von Rydingsvard has long referred to her sculptures as “she” (though GÒRKA , with its central, vertical lingam may be a “he”)—they’re alive and soft and individual, even as she works within her own aesthetic parameters. In Galerie Lelong’s newest presentation of her work, von Rydingsvard populates the gallery with freestanding pieces in wood and bronze, wall-mounted works that elegantly drape or project themselves away from their tethers in craggy overhangs or crawling forays, and several large scale charcoal and graphite drawings begun in lockdown when the artist could not return to her studio. The drawings’ repeated circles and pockmarks echo the sculptures, both formally and in material: von Rydingsvard darkens her cedar with hand-scratched marks from graphite pencils. Those same pencils also number the different boards that comprise her sculptures and permit them to be dismantled and reassembled, the medium humble and artful.
Of the works on view, the cedar sculptures in the round feel the most familiar, as they call back to von Rydingsvard monuments we might have seen more often, like Luba (2009–10) at Storm King or Ona (2013), installed outside the entrance to Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The cedar sculptures at Lelong are more mysterious, containing within themselves secret channels and light and air shafts. CISZA (2020–21) must weigh several thousand pounds but also possesses passages of peculiar delicacy, where the wooden beams are cut thinly enough to seem as though they are flaking away from the base of the structure, almost like the splinters or barbs of an extremely fine cactus thorn. Much further up and within, some flanks are fully separated from the sculpture’s main body, connected only by tiny bridges. I was reminded of flying buttresses, those structural elements of Gothic cathedrals that permitted—so their makers thought (and I prefer to believe, if nothing else for the romance of it)—the buildings to climb ever higher with even more space devoted to windows and light. Von Rydingsvard’s flying buttresses do the same, offering negative spaces deep inside all of the positive volume she presents.
Of the relief sculptures, my favorites are those that engage the ground. ZGINEŁA (2017–19) is far and away the most naturalistic statue I have seen by von Rydingsvard, very nearly a reclining nude just starting to stretch out her legs onto the gallery floor. NABOŻNY (2019) uses its visible planks and heavy graphite patina to suggest stratigraphy: somehow the cedar beams are geometric and sunken at the same time. The whorls of wood, large enough to stick a fist into, prompt more investigation into the sculpture’s interior, something that can happen if we’re willing to get down on our knees and peer further; that sense of interiority—and desire to crawl inside and explore the recesses—recurs in pieces throughout the show. OBUDOWAĆ (2020–21) doesn’t touch the floor at all and merely gestures to the ground, but it is a tour-de-force of three-dimensional engineering. While developing from and of the strictly vertical wooden planks of its background and support, OBUDOWAĆ’s carved surface bubbles and gurgles and dangles and billows, creating an organic habitat for itself and its visitors yet barely casting any shadows. It could be a wall of hornets’ cells, tightly packed and fizzing soapsuds, or a dripping grotto—more expansive than its already gargantuan proportions (138 by 148 by 28 inches) intimate, simultaneously human-made and outside our ken.