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The Object & the Void @ Bedford Gallery

Linda Fleming: (foreground): Planetesimal, 2013, powder coated steel, 76 x 84 x 84"
 

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.

The show features Linda Fleming, Bella Feldman, Yoshimoto Saito and Clay Jensen, masters whose works transform the Bedford’s light-filled rotunda into a catalog of the ways that metal can be cut, cast and reconfigured to challenge quotidian notions of form and space.  Though the approaches taken by the artists couldn’t be more dissimilar, the show divides neatly into complementary halves, one part focused on nature, the other on culture, with each artist offering a distinct material sensibility and viewpoint.  
 
Linda Fleming, Sparks, 2012, powder coated steel, 56 x 72 x 72"

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. 

Her sculptures are comprised of snaky and/or geometric lines that have no apparent beginning or end. The lines merge, veer off and coil back onto themselves, recalling topographic maps (or flight patterns) writ large.  Conjoined, they form spikey shapes that stand on triangular points, looking like stars or giant butterflies.  They measure a yard or two in length and range in stature from knee- to chest-high.  What’s not apparent in the long view is that each of the three sculptures seen here contains, within its bounds, an exact replica of itself.  Meaning, every shape you see has bolted to it, a complementary interior shape that is a perfect double of what’s on the outside.  The mirror images are painted in contrasting colors, emphasizing their sameness, difference, and, most of all, their reliance on each other for definition.  So instead of merely defining objects and voids, as Serra might have it, Fleming’s see-through sculptures demonstrate how two versions of an object coexist in the same physical space. To that Fleming adds yet another twist: the insertion into those objects of triangular negative shapes, further confusing notions of inside and outside.  
 
Bella Feldman, Provocateur, 2015, steel and glass from the War Toys, series, 1992-2015

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.  

Yoshimoto Saito, working in bronze, also finesses the gap between appearance and reality.  Much of that disparity has do with bronze itself, a material typically associated with large, muscular sculptures made in commercial foundries with the help of skilled assistants.  Saito, using the ancient method of lost-wax casting, dispenses with all that, creating in his studio, delicate organic forms that obscure their origins.  His installation, 1000 Prayers — a cloud of bronze-cast pinecones spread across a curved wall – has the feel of an approaching swarm of insects.  Nearby, two selections from his In the Light, In the Shade series call to mind mutant root vegetables — gangly, bulbous forms that, when wall-mounted, seem about as likely to have arisen from molten metal as, say, freshly harvested beets. 
 
Yoshitomo Saito: In the Light, In the Shade D15

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.  

Clay Jensen, Capay, 2015, cast bronze, patina, 8 x 11.5 x 11.5"
 
Clay Jenson’s miniatures — denuded landscapes rendered in bronze and displayed on tabletops – speak of danger, too. They’re said to represent the vanishing industrial landscape of the East Bay. They rest on obdurate slabs, analogous in topography to West Oakland, and on rolling "hills," like those of say, Port Costa, but little else in them describes (or alludes to) what’s there today or once was.  His cypresses more closely recall 50-caliber bullet casings than scrub oaks, and his buildings come off as caricatures, enlarged Monopoly pieces.  V aside, there’s a creepy, attenuated, post-apocalyptic feel to these blackened sculptures that’s not easy to get a fix on — or forget.  What stands in memory are their roughed-up, blue-black, Brillo-like textures, and the sheer weight of all the accumulated silhouettes: volumetric voids that perhaps, better than anything else in the show, represent what Serra meant when he spoke of “the object and void” becoming “one and the same.”  
 
So while Serra’s pronouncements on the nature of things may, at a certain level, feel dated, The Object & the Void refurbishes them, placing them squarely in the present. 
–DAVID M. ROTH
 
“The Object and the Void: West Coast Metal Sculpture” @ Bedford Gallery through April 12, 2015.
 
Cover: Clay Jensen, Slippery Slope, 2015, cast bronze, patina, 8 x 9 x 12.25" 
Photos: David M. Roth 

One Response to “The Object & the Void @ Bedford Gallery”

  1. David:
    Thank you for your insightful and stellar review of The Object & the Void! Well said, and as usual, brilliant.
    best,
    Carrie

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