Pure form meets content at Grimaldis

March 10, 1998|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Sculptor Paul Wallach creates abstract wood and plaster sculptures that lead two lives in his show at the C. Grimaldis Gallery. They function as pure form, interacting with the room they're in, but they also politely possess more implications than they first appear to.

They are still waters that run deep, and one has to give them time to reveal what lies in wait behind the first impression. Good manners are part of their essence. They nestle in corners or sit quietly on walls, declining aggressiveness in favor of allowing the viewer to discover them little by little.

The simple rectangular forms of "Upright and Divided" project slightly from the wall and at first glance look as if they cast a shadow on it. But the shadow seems awfully dark, and on closer inspection, it turns out to be a black square painted directly on the wall behind the sculpture. So the sculpture becomes part painting and incorporates the gallery wall as part of the work of art. It thus becomes an installation with implications about the life of art in time, for this work will not survive its Grimaldis showing exactly in its current form.

From the front, "Her HighNess" seems a sleek, art-deco-like arrangement of geometric shapes hanging against the wall. But walk around to the wall and look at it from the side, and discover on the back another set of curves, much more organic, that only meet the wall at one small point. It's chic and elegant on the front, surprisingly welcoming in back, arousing thoughts of the urge to love lurking behind a reserved facade.

"Square Root" combines a perfect red square hanging flat against the wall and below it an arrangement of wood and cement shapes jutting out from the wall. It has a handsome presence and possesses a vague reference to the human body, but it also functions as a comment on art history.

The red square recalls the geometric abstractions of early 20th-century Russian artist Kasimir Malevich, whose philosophy of "suprematism" proposed an art of pure form without emotional content. But this piece's agglomeration of shapes struggling upward toward the red square suggests that all art created by humans must reflect the emotions that created it, however disguised they may be.

If "Square Root" slightly suggests the human body, "Installation," a work created in this gallery for this show, does so much more directly. Looking like a man trying to hold up the ceiling and hold back the wall, four narrow wooden beams suggesting arms and legs stretch from ceiling, wall and floor to a meeting point in midair. There, they are joined with plaster painted black. A square of white plaster affixed to the beams just in front of this meeting point hides it from view, resembling a military shield or clothes covering nakedness.

The piece imparts a sense of both self-protection and territorial assertion. It suggests that under the veneer of civilization, man exists on a level closer to beast than he may like to admit.

One needn't think of Wallach's sculptures as more than abstract form to find them rewarding, but they also willingly respond to inquiries about content.

At Grimaldis

What: Sculpture by Paul Wallach

Where: 523 N. Charles St.

When: 10 a.m.-5: 30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Sundays; through March 29

Call: 410-539-1080

Pub Date: 3/10/98

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