Essence eludes sculptor's works

November 16, 1990|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

John Raimondi When: Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Dec. 29.

Where: The C. Grimaldis Gallery Sculpture Space, 1006 Morton St.

Call: 539-1092.

The John Raimondi sculptures at Grimaldis are smaller versions of pieces commissioned for various public and private spaces, and they display the abilities that such work requires. They also reveal the essential weakness into which such work can fall Take "Athleta" (1990) for instance, a pedestal piece based on a commission for the University of Nebraska's sports colosseum. Its cluster of limbs culminating in a ball at the top skillfully evokes any number of sports while still remaining essentially a single figure.

The arm that reaches up to the ball can be that of a basketball or a volleyball player. One element can be the leg of a baseball pitcher raised in his windup, or, when combined with another element into a long falling gesture, it can be a swimmer diving. The football punter is here, too, and no doubt other sports are represented.

The sculptor has obviously done a lot of study and created a work appropriate for the commission, and, one assumes, for its site. He has also, in this smaller version at least, worked the bronze surfaces to create an interesting variety of coloration.

When you have said that you have said a considerable amount, and yet you have said nothing of importance. For we search this work in vain for the actuality of sport, the grunt, the sweat, the discipline, the elation, the competitive urge, the sheer joy of making a body do what a body can do. Raimondi has captured some externals, but essence eludes this work.

Commissioned work need not be superficial. But its pitfall is that it can reflect a desire to please the client rather than an expression of what the artist needs to say. And Raimondi in the works here has not avoided that pitfall.

Whether it's "Athleta" or "Lupus" (1983), based on a sculpture for a Cambridge, Mass., corporation, or "Aquila" (1981) for a Miami company, or "Dance of the Cranes" (1988), based on the largest bronze sculpture in North America, at the Omaha, Neb., airport, the most positive response possible is admiration for Raimondi's skills; these works do not evoke anything deeper.

Apparently that was not always true. Photographs of a couple of earlier Raimondi pieces, "Jat" (1973) and "Erma's Desire" (1976) indicate that they were more angular, more muscular, stronger, tougher, darker in color and darker in overall tone or mood.

The works of the 1980s are, as the sculptor characterizes them, more organic in form; they are also perhaps more thoroughly finished. But alas they are also more facile. And on the whole they grow more so as the decade progresses. The recent "Spirit Ascending" (1988) and "Spirit of the Mountain: Grace" (1990) are slick pieces of decorative emptiness. Raimondi needs to recapture earlier strengths, if he can.

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