Ilan Averbuch's stone sculpture "The Shadow of the Sun," at the C. Grimaldis Gallery, looks like a relic of some long-dead civilization -- like Stonehenge, a composition of some deep, mysterious, possibly scientific and possibly religious meaning.
Part of the mystery lies in its simplicity: 20 oblong stones placed so that their inner ends form a smooth circle on the floor, their outer ones a jagged circle. Near the inner edge is a circular trough holding water.
The whole thing suggests a primitive but profound attempt to express some universal concept; it invites contemplation, and rewards it with a certain sense of serenity.
Averbuch is one of four artists represented in the gallery's current sculpture show. They have in common not only sculpture but the use of natural materials, mainly stone and/or wood, and seen together they appear to carry on a conversation about the relationship of nature and civilization.
If Averbuch's stones suggest the use of natural materials to compass some great natural law that reflects a higher truth, in comparison Wade Saunders' works of stone and silk, inspired by a trip to India, suggest some extreme of civilization that flirts with but is essentially too disciplined for decadence.
Saunders juxtaposes opposites (silk and stone); he works out a faceted column, "Gangakondacholapuram," on mathematical principles (successive layers of 7, 9, 12, 16, 21 sides); he organizes another column, "Madurai," so that its elements are constantly fluctuating in relationship to one another as you move around it. All these suggest an ultimate refinement of elegance, a sensibility so completely developed that it delights principally in games of its own devising.
Ulrich Ruckriem's two-part sculpture (untitled) is also based on mathematics -- ratios of 4-to-1, 3-to-1, 2-to-1, etc. -- but this stunted gray column and black floor slab possess a cerebral austerity that reflects the impersonal perfection of scientific truths, discovered in nature and harnessed for the progress -- perhaps -- of civilization.
In the midst of all this, Jene Highstein's wood pieces, "Roller" and "Window," seem to exist somewhere between a natural and a man-made state, suggesting the possibilities of both. Perhaps the most optimistic of all these works, they have a jauntiness that says there need be no loss of integrity in the intercourse between nature and civilization if there remains sufficient respect on both sides.
The show runs through Feb. 1 at C. Grimaldis Gallery, 1006 Morton St. Call 539-1080.