An Ethos of Industrious Neurosis: Daniel Wiener at Lesley Heller
Daniel Wiener: Making is Thinking at Lesley Heller Workspace
March 2 – April 3, 2011
54 Orchard Street, between Hester and Grand streets
New York City, (212) 410-6120
Daniel Wiener’s sculpture is ugly beautiful. Using a pigmented, self-hardening epoxy, Wiener engineers a surprisingly sensuous range of feels. Alongside this plastic’s familiar sheen, Wiener cultivates a thumbed juiciness more usual to Plasticine, the matte polish of old bowling balls, and a raspy grit produced when half-dry masses are torn apart. Most compelling of all, Wiener wrestles a sort of vividly colored cloisonné into his obdurate, constipating material, expressing the painterly skin as much as the sculptural bones.
Indeed, works with predominant flat surfaces become as pictorial as tattoos. In the wall piece “Flame Meander” (2010), inset blocks of red and green marbling confer something of the psychedelic decorum of Chinese dragonry on a black loop-de-loop with ragged gold border, while “Sagging into the Space Between Slats” (2011) is a bench-like floor piece whose buffed, eye-popping seat top is inlaid with the concentric targets of a toxic caterpillar.
“Sagging” is exceptional in this group of works in going so far toward goth, sci-fi furniture, as if Wiener wanted to be the Nakashima of interplanetary drug lords; few of Wiener’s design imperatives, natural, functional, or cultural, play out even so lopsidedly as that. Normally, any flat surface, repeating rhythm, or representational impulse frays into ropes of twisted color, or breaks apart, or bends away into skeptical curvatures of narrative. In “Harlequin Poison” (2011), for example, a projecting bedside shelf twists down into prosthetic paws, and forward into red ribbons of looping, Art Nouveau frog’s tongue. The law of Wiener’s exploratory, morph-or-die universe is the reverse of our inertial one: objects never remain at rest.
Like fresco, epoxy dictates by drying. Against this unforgiving constraint, Wiener draws up, at most, only vague plans –– but there is much method to his improvisation. Most of his forms clearly begin as laminations of vividly contrasting strata of color, which are then deformed, faulted, or rolled into ribbon-like conglomerates. When these masses are sawn through after hardening, like geodes, or rolled out to slabs and sliced while soft, like pastry dough, complexly banded patterns are made manifest in cross section. Color-packed discs and panels of kindred motif can thus be cleaved from a single body and stockpiled for later insertion. With this process, Wiener achieves, as I’ve said, a kind of rhythmic, cloisonné effect that can fascinate in the manner of fractals, cauliflower brain scans, ornamental overload, and state-of-the-art geometric abstraction –– as filtered, that is, through the melting optics of a hippie-candle, with all due pathos. Not that Wiener’s work drips with lassitude; on the contrary, it is restless in its artistic vacillation. This restlessness, this pathos of vision unattained, can seem funny enough, but it is ultimately the grave pathos of entropy.
“Making is Thinking” is the title of a wall piece in which that text is painstakingly, if shakily, inlaid in a raw gnarl of greenish matter; the phrase also serves as the title of the show, and must be meant as a kind credo –– but a tenuous one, given how the letters are nearly crushed in their matrix. Still, it is a nakedly unironic, conscientious objection to quick takes and eye candy. When “thinking” gets physically “made,” shit happens –– all manner of accident, in other words, much of it useful and some of it astonishingly beautiful.
Wiener is rarely so literal about the necessary impossibility of follow-through as in the title piece, but something along the lines of struggling not to change horses mid-stream is very much the structural drama in all the works –– some big, brutish gesture of almost comical excess is produced to support, or hold off, exquisite small-scale fiddling. The giant clam form of “Ruckus” (2008), orange with streaks of toothpaste teal, looks like it was partially flattened by traffic. It seems all speed and impact. But look closer and one gets lost in tightly orchestrated episodes of efflorescent growth in the nooks and crannies, as small reef forms gorgeously reclaim Wiener’s calculated wreck.
“Maiden Queen and the Angel Mild” (2008) cements a large, whitish ball like a stegosaurus egg to a rising armature of black, twisting vines. The segregation of light and dark, smooth and gnarly, endomorphic and exomorphic is as programmatic as Wiener gets –– and inevitably, his ethos of industrious neurosis sets in where the opposites join: cusps and tendrils of the vine cannot but penetrate the egg, which unshell-like, goops in reaction. Climbing among the vines are more cusps for fruiting bodies, precisely rendered; empty cusps might trap insects or furnish brackets for candles. At the top is a roughly torn agglomeration that suggests a goat skull with devilish, twisted horns –– an angel mild only by Blake’s revaluation of values, or maybe Linda Bengliss’s: ugly beautiful.