Dual exhibit acts as foil for two opposite, but complementary, artists


May 02, 1991|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

The bringing together of the sculptures of John Van Alstine and John Ruppert at the C. Grimaldis Gallery's 1006 Morton St. space (through June 1) amounts to a creative act in itself. It

creates something like a conversation between people who bring out the most of each other precisely because they are in certain ways opposites.

Not that they don't have a considerable amount in common. Both create more or less abstract sculpture, Van Alstine of rock XTC and steel, Ruppert of sand-cast metals. The works of both often feel monumental even when the size itself is not all that large. And both have strength of presence; they couldn't stand up to each other if they didn't.

Where they differ, however, is more essential. Van Alstine works to a degree with given materials, pieces of rock which he may chooseover other pieces but which retain certain qualities of color, veining, texture and shape. He combines these with man-made metal (steel or bronze) to set up a dialogue between the natural and the made, the organic and the geometric.

Ruppert works with sand, a natural material, but he shapes it to his own ends -- or in his words, "I carve and assemble voids in sand" -- and he uses these voids to mold metal into largely prefigured forms. In describing his method, he uses words such as "engineering" and "control"; and when the sculpture is dug from the sand, he says, "I allow it to bear the marks of its origin." Even in that statement one has more of a sense of negative control than of chance.

And yet, when one sees the two sculptors' work in the same room -- Van Alstine's huge "Rollover," for instance, near Ruppert's wall piece "Horizontal Book" and table piece "Solar Collectors" -- it's impossible not to be struck by how the impression each makes is opposite from what one might have expected. For it's Ruppert's carefully controlled sculptures that impart a sense of the natural, the organic, the expressive. Whereas Van Alstine creates such a balance between elements that the overwhelming impression is of order, reason, logic.

With Van Alstine, it is as if the powers of nature have been harnessed and turned to human ends. Or perhaps as if emotion has been restrained by the rational. While with Ruppert, it is as if the emotional side resists the shackles of reason, or as if nature manages to make itself known even through the most calculated process. Van Alstine even shapes space, while Ruppert causes something as orderly as a circle or a grid to suggest the ravages of time and fire.

Like good conversationalists, these sculptors, as represented in their works, do not try to dominate one another, but rather seek to reveal each other's virtues. And they do.

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