Grimaldis shows scaled-down sculpture with a broad view

September 13, 1990|By Mike Giuliano | Mike Giuliano,Special to The Evening Sun

Paul Daniel is associated with making large abstract sculptures that seem to be outdoors even when they're indoors, so his exhibit of relatively small sculptures at the C. Grimaldis Gallery Sculpture Space may come as a surprise to some.

But if Daniel is working on a smaller scale, he is no less adept at playfully combining such otherwise potentially weighty materials as steel and stone. His new sculptures verge on the tabletop-sized. Indeed, the table might be a good (dare one say Platonic?) model to keep in mind when considering these sculptures. Pillar- and pedestal-like bases typically support flat, table-like surfaces that function like topographic staging grounds for Daniel's abstract constructions. When the flat surface in question is slate, or when Daniel actually embeds stones in his flat surfaces, naturally one thinks about such surfaces as an abstract sculptor's earthly terrain.

The environmental concerns of so much recent art are picked up on by Daniel in a manner that could hardly be called directly imitative of any other artist. In "Anna's Garden" and related sculptures, Daniel constructs formal tabletop "gardens" whose mathematical precision is not at the expense of mystical calm. "Anna's Garden," for example, has a patio design of slate squares placed around an actual, water-filled pool. The pools in such sculptures, which come complete with real goldfish, are as lovingly and deliberately created as in a Japanese garden. On a whimsical note, one imagines the conversations between gallery staff and prospective buyers, as they discuss the care and feeding of goldfish.

For all the conversation-making appeal of these abstractly environmental fish pools, there is more than fish food for thought here. Daniel isn't content with merely giving us mini-ponds in these formal (if unusual) garden-evoking settings. No, his sculptures usually reach still higher. Obelisk-like projections rising from the flat surfaces serve as the firm poles on top of which are balanced geometric and other abstract forms.

This is more than a balancing act homage to sculptor Alexander Calder, though. Just consider how many references Daniel is able to balance up there with a few abstract appendages. In the directly allusive sculpture "Her," for instance, the balancing piece of shaped metal is obviously a female figure.

Less obvious and hence more intriguing is the idealized red triangle hanging above "Rock & Rill." For an artist who contemplates the earth in geometric terms, such a fire engine red triangle seemingly calls attention to itself as a signifier of idealized Platonic forms. And because Paul Daniel has a sense of humor in his work, one can't help smiling at the notion of Plato turning from philosophy to landscape architecture.

At the C. Grimaldis Gallery this month, the new paintings by Betsey Heuisler are abstracted landscapes and interiors that are too muted in their effect. In "Table: Memories of Things Past," there is enough allusion to recognizable form to spark speculation, but a viewer hardly experiences a richly Proustian epiphany. Similarly, in "Night Phenomena," Heuisler is skillful in placing a blue horizon line above a black field, but the technical accomplishment seems to lack any emotional component.

The color zones that are the compositional building blocks for her paintings melt and overlap enough to keep her abstractions from ever falling into rigid formula, but one consequence of her approach in this body of work is a general muting of color that also seems to muffle both the sensate and the spiritual realms.

On exhibit in the back gallery of the C. Grimaldis Gallery this month are prints by George McNeill, Esteban Vicente, Sonia Gechtoff, Richard Serra, Grace Hartigan, Chris Knipp and Gunther Forg.

Paul Daniel's recent sculpture remains at the C. Grimaldis Gallery Sculpture Space, at 1006 Morton Street, through Oct. 13. For details, call 539-1092. Paintings by Betsey Heuisler and contemporary prints by various artists remain at the C. Grimaldis Gallery, at 523 N. Charles Street, through Sept. 29. For details, call 539-1080.

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