Sculpture show themes: death, disintegration --and continuity

January 22, 1991|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Apollonius of Tyana was a first century A.D. philosopher who became an object of worship as a kind of pagan Christ figure. In "Apollonius' Dream," sculptor Jonathan Silver has fashioned a gloomily effective installation at the C. Grimaldis Morton Street gallery (as part of a four-person show at both the Morton and Charles Street spaces) that crushingly illuminates the folly of human dreams and human striving.

In a dim rectangular "room" the philosopher lies, presumably dead, on a bed supported by sawhorses. Around him are plaster and silver figures, one attached to the wall, the others free-standing, that may be other gods or figures from his life. On the bed leans his stick, and beside him, on a chipped pedestal, is a sculpted head. Dead leaves are strewn on the floor, and red rose petals down the front of his figure and across the floor recall spring and blood, birth and death.

The death of Apollonius represents the death of empires or civilizations, ours no less than the Roman; but also, since the biography that made him a figure of worship is thought to have been largely fiction, it stands for the fruitlessness of belief -- it's only a dream.

There is a certain parallel between Silver's installation and Jim Sanborn's very different wall plaques. Sanborn takes shredded and discarded CIA documents, makes them into plaques (or in one case a cylinder) of pulp and glue covered with letters, either from the Cyrillic or the Roman alphabet. The letters actually form a code which conceals a secret meaning.

These plaques, which recall ancient stone carvings, are cracked -- also a reminder of the crumbling of empires; and their source, the residue of covert operations -- in fact most are titled "Covert Operations" -- suggests that the disintegration of civilizations lies in the betrayal of their values (e.g., democratic openness).

The works of these two artists are heavy with implications. So, in a different way, are the two semi-architectural sculptures of Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias. The larger of these (both untitled) consists of three semi-arches, their uprights neat, modern-looking tripartite steel slabs; from these, slanted "windows" made of glass, plaster and zinc, reach to the actual wall of the gallery, thus bringing the existing architecture into the work of art. This work turns its back on you, yet lets you in. It is and isn't architecture, since it defines and semi-encloses space but for no purpose. From the outside it looks quite modern yet when you step inside you are struck by its ageless serenity. It's at once as old as the arch and as new as minimalism. Its implications are the opposite of those of the Sanborn and Silver works, for while they speak of death and disintegration, this speaks of a continuity with the past; while they are disturbing this is in its own quiet way comforting.

Joel Fisher's sculptures and the small drawings which he calls apographs round out an extremely interesting show of works by artists whose importance is ever more widely recognized (through March 2).

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