Sculptures defy simplicity of minimalism

March 15, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Spanish artist Pello Irazu's wooden sculptures, now at Grimaldis, look at first glance simple and almost minimalist. They consist of boxes or multiples of box forms, either placed on the floor or hung on the wall.

But their lively, complex surfaces immediately separate them from minimalism. Vibrant colors -- red, blue, green, yellow -- share these surfaces with wood grains that introduce a sense of movement. The surface complexity of a work such as "The Way People Say No (Cheap)" plays off against the overall simplicity of the box form.

The longer you look at these works, in fact, the more they seem to be rejecting minimalism, not by assault from outside but by revolting against it from within. By assuming shapes reminiscent of minimalism and then adding other kinds of interest, they look as if they tried to be minimalist, but found it wanting, unfulfilling, and so were forced to break its confines. In straying from the impersonal perfection of minimalism, they make a statement that perfection is irrelevant to an imperfect world.

These sculptures are not only subversive of minimalism in terms of such formal considerations as color, surface and form. While abstract in appearance, they have meanings that relate to everyday life and even social issues, as their titles indicate.

"Vecinos" means neighbors in Spanish, and the work consists of three blocks of wood, separated slightly. They look almost identical, but they are not -- each has its own particularity, and yet they affect one another in various ways. A red-painted surface on one reflects off a white-painted surface of its neighbor, tinting it slightly pink.

There are all kinds of connotations in this work in terms of how neighbors relate to one another, affect one another's lives, retain separateness though being members of the same family of beings; and such connotations can be applied equally to individuals inhabiting a community or nations inhabiting the world.

"Sleeping in the Corner Together II" is one of a series of sculptures that the artist has said relate to homelessness. Each of its three L-shaped parts would resemble a bed if placed separately on the floor, but they are joined in such a way that there is no whole horizontal surface available for sleeping, so they tantalize and then cruelly reject the prospective sleeper. It's a comment on a rich but wasteful society that turns its back on those it might help but won't.

Critic Christian Leigh has written, "Bathed in the bathos and pathos of minimalism, Irazu's intentions are in fact more maximal. . . . They absolutely must strive for more." And they strive successfully.

ART REVIEW

What: Sculptures by Pello Irazu

Where: C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 North Charles St.

When: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through April 2

Call: (410) 539-1080.

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