Friday, September 14, 2018

Douglas Messerli | "A Sculpture of the Small Writ Large" (on Richard Deacon and Sui Jianguo


Richard Deacon and Sui Jianguo, Los Angeles, LA Louver Galley / I saw this show with Howard N. Fox on September 6, 2018.

If upon entering the splendid new show at LA Louver Gallery in Venice, “Richard Deacon and Sui Jianguo,” it might appear that there is something jarringly oppositional between the objects—which have been positioned throughout the downstairs and upstairs gallery to represent a kind of dialogue—upon more careful looking and thinking one quickly begins to see links in the art that become richer as one explores them.
       The British artist Deacon first encountered Sui on a visit in China to create a proposed sculpture. Sui, who had sat on the committee which had selected Deacon, quickly became friends with the visiting artist, and they bonded in that 1999 meeting, realizing their affinities despite the sometimes radically different appearance of their own works.
       As in Fold in the Fabric 7 from 2018, Deacon’s works have often involved a piecing together of wooden or metal parts that link up the works many elements, often made up of similar size, to create a broader gestural-like work, which demonstrate the very process of how the art was created. By setting these often-rough-hewn objects of wood or metal upon polished wooden tables of his own creation, moreover, Deacon frames the art within the context of their own podiums, making us even more aware of their hand-made formations.

In one of the best works of the show, Size Is Everything #3, its title spells out in the artwork’s curvaceous-like exclamation—not unlike his famed After, the gigantic articulated wooden worm from 1998—through the method of its creation. We witness through the articulation of this beech and elm-wood construction how it must have come into existence by the assemblage of the smaller wooden struts that Deacon has skillfully epoxied together. The marvelously expressive alphabet-like figure—a bit like an emphatic emoji—is made possible only because of the lesser constituent parts.
      Similarly, the large stainless steal painted work, New Alphabet GHI (2018) is a product of various shaped metal constructions linked intricately together to create a language-in-motion and depth that becomes larger than life.
      If upon first viewing Sui’s work it might appear to consist of huge bronze abstract cuttings in the manner—without the human bodily references—of an artist like Rodin, we gradually perceive that a grand gestural piece (larger by far than most individuals) such as Planting Trace I (2014-2016) is actually based on a small clay model that shares the imprints of the artist’s hand working the material, implanting the imprint of his own skin, and then using 3D scanning that magnifies the images into cast bronze. What appears to be a gigantic gesture of winnowing away a block of metal is actually the small motion made through the very smallest elements, clay rolling across the hand,
      The smaller metal works, such as Planting Trace—Island 1 (2018), Planting Trace—Constellation 10 (2018), and “Planting Trace—Matter 5 (2018), all beginning in the same manner and cast into bronze or created from galvanized photosensitive resin 3D printing, present textures that link the human body at a the most minimal level into jewel-like objects that seem abstractly inspired. Like Deacon, Sui often constructs his own small flat, reflected metal bases which pose as a frame for the art.
      In this profound show, Sui was a true revelation for me, and shown within the context of his friend, Deacon, I gained a new comprehension how truly “size is everything,” that even the smallest gesture when writ large, can become something of amazing beauty.

Los Angeles, August 7, 2018