Richard’s Serra’s observation – that “object and the void become one and the same” in steel sculpture – seems, at this remove, to be a self-evident truth. True for Serra, but not universally so. That would make it a slender peg on which to hang a show. But surprise: The Object & the Void, an exhibition of metal sculpture organized by Carrie Lederer, the Bedford Gallery’s curator of exhibitions, proves the artist’s premise to be sturdy and extensible in ways Serra may not have envisioned when he made that remark in 2001 to Charlie Rose.
Fleming commands the nature side of it. The artist, who divides her time between a Benicia studio and a home in Colorado, is best known for freestanding, laser-cut sculptures that give form to theories about how the universe behaves. Particle and string theory are, for most people, mind-bending propositions, and for that reason they’ve long attracted artists with a scientific/cosmic bent. Fleming is one of the few who manage to actualize such ideas in ways that make intuitive, physical sense.
Viewer engagement of this sort has a rich past, one glimpsed most recently at the San Jose ICA, which, in 2012, mounted a show by the minimalist sculptor Charles Ginnever. The 15 origami-like shapes he put on view were identical. But by turning them onto their pointy edges at conflicting angles, Ginnever promulgated the misperception that each was different. Fleming challenges viewers similarly. Her works don’t just occupy space; they reach into it, through it and around it, posing ontological questions about what we know and how we know it.
Bella Feldman’s War Toys anchor the culture portion of the exhibition, reflecting polemically on humanity’s darkest side. Over the years, Feldman, a veteran of the Bay Area scene, has displayed pieces from this long-running series in many venues, including, most recently, a 2013 career retrospective at the Richmond Art Center; but never before has she arrayed them as powerfully as she does here. Twenty-six of them appear on the floor in a V-shaped phalanx, an assault both on war and on the doublespeak used to justify it. “Neutralize,” “Immanent Threat,” “Regime Change,” “Germ Warfare,” “Axis of Evil”, “Air Support,” “Friendly Fire,” “Embedded,” “Incursion,” “Waste,” “Desert Storm,” and “Enduring Freedom” are some of the words and catch phrases stenciled on the floor. Beyond them lay the objects. With their claws, saw blades, pincers, propellers and spikes, they give off the look of medieval weapons. Some are fused to glass bulbs, suggesting Buck Rogers-inspired “improvements” (flame throwers, death rays, chemical dispersants) that might render
them even deadlier. Above all this, suspended from the ceiling by wires, is a large pendulum, a wheel-shaped device resembling an oversized pizza cutter. It, too, seems, lethal. A fiercer, more effective denunciation of war would be hard to envision. In prior exhibitions, Feldman’s displayed these objects on tabletops. That approach emphasized how toys inure boys to violence and how they insulate them from its consequences. The floor display argues for a more expansive view, one that recasts the creativity brought to weaponry as a symptom of pacifism’s failure and of war’s ongoing allure. Feldman, 84, has lived through plenty of both. Growing up in the Bronx, she heard Hitler’s speeches on the radio, and was horrified, and nothing she’s experienced since (Korea, Vietnam and two Gulf Wars) has altered that view. She, has however, reflected on many other subjects, as two monumental sculptures in this exhibit, On Pointe and Lyre, attest. Upward-facing pincers mounted on fulcrums that at the center suspend teardrop-shaped pieces of cast glass, they read as semen dripping into spread thighs — a stark collusion of eroticism and danger.