Mechanisms of Mediation: Willard Boepple’s Towers
Willard Boepple: New Sculpture at Lori Bookstein Fine Art
March 29 to April 28, 2012
138 Tenth Avenue between 19th and 20th streets
New York City, 212.750.0949
Willard Boepple has a knack of keeping us at a threshold where a sense of something familiar and utilitarian slides away into mysterious relationships of planes, spaces and colors. In terms of the familiar or the useful he gives us few clues. The three looming structures in his present show, sparsely and handsomely installed in the main gallery space at Lori Bookstein, make possible reference to radio masts, pylons, towers etc, in much the way previous bodies of work were titled, and related to, ‘Looms’ or ‘Rooms.’ But these apparent references don’t take us far. As for the mystery of planes, spaces, color, rhythm, structure etc, we are faced with a problem – we don’t have much of a language for it, and yet it is clear that this is the real content of the work. It is easier to think about the radio mast as an object because it has a name and a function whereas the sculptures turn us away from this towards that which we know much less about; our more instinctive and unmediated responses to such phenomena as weight, density and scale.
The installation is generous in allowing us to walk around in between the sculptures, to back off to some distance and see them against the plain while of the gallery walls. There is an invitation to speculate, and to pass in, out and around the works repeatedly, noting differences and similarities. What gives (2011) holds within its slightly tapering vertical grey frame, red panels or blocks, while Heath (2012) has a darker gray frame, and contains more slender, dark gray bars. Ever (2012) has a paler frame and even more attenuated climbing (or falling) bars in it. In each piece rhythms and weights are uneven within the regularity of the tall frame, but each sculpture has these two fundamental elements in dialogue, the frame and the forms that are placed within it. Musical references have been used to describe this sculptor’s work, and Boepple himself says that he wants his work “to be open and clear like a ringing melody”. Here, and in earlier series, one can also think of themes and variations – there is something quite methodical as well as intuitive about the way ideas are explored within a repeated framework. Each piece is a conclusion but also contains the idea of variability and movement.
The way each piece has a more or less gray frame that contains elements of a different second colour emphasises the distinction between frame and elements and also stresses each piece’s individuality. This simple color coding tells us something about the order of apprehension; first, the single identity of the sculpture (the red one, the yellow one, etc) then, the separateness of its two elements: the framework and its contents. However, the coloring also unites the pieces in a painterly way (there isn’t a sculpture where one element is painted and the other isn’t). The natural connection one makes is to Mondrian’s lines, or strips, of various dark greys, that hold in place areas of color– a framework that is itself an active component. The artist says of these towers that “eventually the framework began to function as a sort of engaged pedestal, a part of and support for the whole”. There is also a kind of freedom in the coloring that I take to be simply pleasurable, which relates to the musicality of the ideas of variation and rhythm, and I think one shouldn’t underestimate the sense of enjoyment of colour, surface, facture and so on, that the works seem to advocate. It is the pleasure of apparently simple things that very rapidly become complex and unfathomable.
Boepple’s work repeatedly stresses that we can see through it, that its space is also part of our space. I don’t know of a completely solid Boepple. The densest sculptures of his that I know, the ‘Temples’, still have gaps between the elements that form their relatively compacted and heavy blocks, and the more sealed up forms of the resin pieces were made sufficiently transparent to see their interior. Other series are typically open and airy, especially so these towers. They retain the idea that the sculpture holds, or makes or divides spaces within it and around it. The gaps and openness in his work suggest that he wants his sculpture to be contiguous with rather than separate from the ‘normal’ space and character of the world we inhabit. The Towers presumably reference the ethereal space of radio waves, unknowable to us but for the mediation of a mechanism. This is a nice metaphor for the functioning of Boepple’s sculptures: mechanisms that make apparent mysterious qualities that surround us.