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Seth Koen @ Gregory Lind Gallery

Tusk, 2010, wood, 13.5”w x 12.5"d x 10.5"h

Minimalism and materiality are not two words you typically see in the same sentence.  But in Narwhellian, a compact, idea-packed show, sculptor Seth Koen cleverly conjoins the two.

Orignally, minimalist sculpture was about expressing ideas in slick, shiny surfaces, absent any sort of messy contact with the artist’s hand.  Koen’s works, which are as much about object-ness as they are about its opposite – nothingness  – simultaneously embrace the old strictures while brilliantly defying them with a nod-and-a-wink.  His forte is carved wood displayed in physically improbable shapes – shapes that even in their smooth, finely sanded condition have the feel of readymades. You can see, if you look closely, all of the places where he’s fitted together the interlocking pieces, but you’d be hard-pressed to say how, exactly, he does it.

Djiril, 2010, wood, 8.25”w x 72”d x 43.25”h

That’s precisely the kind of visual sleight-of-hand doctrinaire minimalists revered.  Where Koen leaves them behind is by imbuing his objects with a distinct anthropomorphic quality.  Hence, the title Narwhellian.  It’s a mash-up of Orwellian and narwhal, the latter referring to the arctic whale whose defining feature is a harpoon-like tusk.  It appears in the show as a visual through-line, obliquely referencing the artist’s former life on the Maine coast. 

Elements of that rural environment are clearly in evidence in the udder-like dowels that protrude from the L-shaped Tusk and in the pair of wall-hung protruberances that constitute Medusa.  One of its downward-facing appendages is swaddled in a crocheted red garment, a tender gesture that brings to mind the sort of sweaters you see on small dogs.

Counterbalancing those organic references are Djiril and Selkie, objects that look like giant cell phones equipped with outsized antennae.  This redeployment of the narwahlian tusk suggests, perhaps, that like ocean going mammals, we humans troll our own environment for a different kind of prey: information. 

Medusa, 2010, wood, 5”w x 7.75”d x 63.5”h

Beyond the obvious pleasures of such hybrid associations, there is one other important facet of Koen’s work: the way it plays with perception.  Tramontane and Ostro, for example, are only lines in space, but situated as they are at the intersection of two walls, they create the illusion of a transparent, volumetric object, suspended.

Drain, two wooden balls stationed at opposite ends of a wooden arc, also suspends gravity; it dangles  improbably from a narrow ledge, defying our instinct that says that it should not.

With great economy and visual imagination, Koen creates elegant and deliciously open-ended works that tweak the orthodoxies of Minimalism while at the same the same time engaging them with serious craft.  

–DAVID M. ROTH

Seth Koen, Narwhellian @ Gregory Lind Gallery through December 11, 2010.

 

 

 

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