Hardware and Software Conspire: Peter Soriano at Frederico Sève
Peter Soriano: Dimensions Variable at Frederico Sève Gallery (latincollector)
September 23 to November 6, 2010
37 West 57th Street, 4th Floor, between Fifth and Sixth avenues
New York City, (212) 334-7813
Peter Soriano’s new wall installations are sparse arrangements of short aluminum tubes, steel cable, and diagrammatic markings spray-painted on the wall in primary colors. The tubes are set perpendicularly into stock modular collars screwed to the wall, and the hollow protruding ends are guyed with one, two, or three cables, which run to eyebolts some feet away. The cables are fastened with crimps and tensioned mid-span with a prominent turnbuckle. The tension seems to hold the tubes in place, like stays on ship’s mast. But it would have to be a ship in need of repair: in all but one case the cabling is disposed lopsidedly, and the vertical part of the force vector (supposing wall to be ground) is comically outweighed by its eccentric horizontal component.
Meanwhile, the spray-painted markings—arrows, circles, various forms of brackets—are cryptic and possibly mocking. They either contradict the forces in play or overemphasize them, as if mere signs could intervene to compensate for—or exacerbate—disequilibrium in the physical realm.
And perhaps they can. In Other Side #93 (BASC), (all works 2010), a spray-painted red arrow transfers the tensile grip of one cable down the edge of the wall, where it intersects the action at a second cable’s eyehook. A sprayed blue parenthesis corrals the energy and shepherds it around the freestanding corner. At the next corner, the partner parenthesis closes the term, elegantly claiming the wall’s entire four-foot thickness for the sculpture’s dominion.
Hardware and software conspire centripetally in Other Side #75 (DIXA). Here Soriano stretches a cable from a pole across an interior corner to the adjoining wall. Two spray-painted blue T-junctions extend back from the attachment points of cable and pole to visually wedge against the corner and the floor, like Charles Ray doing duets with a plank.
Of several flat wall pieces, Other Side #81 (AMDI)is the most baroque. It sets three physical “situations” (a word Soriano uses in describing these works) in play against a syncopated gamut of loud visual signals in red, yellow, blue, and black. Tension and compression—actual and graphic—counterbalance as if these were engineering studies for upthrusting Mark di Suvero or Kenneth Snelson sculptures, or else akimbo diagrams for their disassembly.
The arrows, circles, and brackets are sprayed with just the right degree of purposeful nonchalance, neither fussy nor sloppy, like a cable TV installer’s indications on asphalt. No less than the other elements of the assemblage, these gestures are ready to be returned to the shelf when the piece disbands. The show’s title, “Dimensions Variable,” emphasizes this contingency, inasmuch as the instructions and contracts for these installations can be transferred and the pieces remade to scale absent the artist’s hand in the now-familiar conceptualist manner. Vintage Bochner and Lewitt are frankly channeled in Soriano’s reductive vocabulary as well, through an epistemology of measurement and an anti-commodity Puritanism; Soriano’s astringent cables could not be farther from Sarah Sze’s totally wired maximalism.
But then again, conceptual chilliness does not account for the absurd particularity of Soriano’s wall works. Their sense of comic frustration feels more akin to Rosalind Krauss’s description of Picasso’s anxious mood at the advent of cubism, which was “plagued with a kind of skepticism about vision from which there was more fear than pleasure to be derived,” doubting whether “there can ever be direct access to depth through vision.” Several probing drawings on view make this older lineage—in which the sign and the signified first began to mingle—more apparent. In the drawings, contradictory mappings fold and unfold space into an urgent decorative collage, as if laying out a sewing pattern for a multidimensional kimono.
Unlike the exemplary clarity of the conceptualism they mimic, Soriano’s wall pieces do not angelically suspend in one’s mind. Rather, they stick in the craw, retaining the obstinate essence, while shedding the transporting sensuality, of his previous works—a Gustonesque opus of impressively goofy capsules, pods, gadgets, limbs, and organs that were built in wax, cast in richly pigmented resin, and buffed to a luscious matte inscrutability. Exuberant mixed morphologies of animal, machine, plant, and toy, they tweaked ideal geometry at every unclassifiable bulge and orifice.
Thus the sensuality of his former way of working thwarts, on principle, exactly the kind of fundamental reckoning with extension and place that Soriano has since begun to seek. After several transitional shows, the “situations” now go as far as possible in a reactive direction, towards a ground zero of readymade and ideation. Here sculptural pleasure no longer distracts. But it persists, narrowly and without fuss, in the rare way Soriano levers paradox and visual instinct above the well-mapped province of wall drawing. His contrarian conjunctions amount to droll little crow’s nests from which we can get a rare, heterodox overview of our Flatland habits of mind.