Fragile, Thin Lines, Substantial Life Metaphors: Labauvie’s Most Recent Exhibition

Let’s face it, Labauvie’s WIRE.PAPER.STEEL is not for everyone; if you are one of those that take offense in modern art, then Dominique’s modern references and influences may come to a complete turn-off to you. Romanticism and lyricism are the heroes of this exhibition – without them on your side, Labauvie’s work will have little to no effect on you.

Gallery221@HCC is incredibly small – however, the monumentality of these works make you forget that you are in front of a group of students on library study desks reviewing for their exams. It is a space to get lost in and ponder about life and art, humanity and its condition.

Sounds terribly pretentious, doesn’t it? Well, I could say yes, but the truth is that the very particular choices, of material and placing, that Labauvie makes in these works are intriguing and thought provoking – they do indeed bring these kinds of questions and thoughts to mind.

DSC_0280Labauvie’s Flying Buttress (2012) on the up-front center, and charcoal drawings, Magnetic Fields (2013), on the left-hand side. Photo credit: Victoria Casal-Data

The protagonist of the exhibition is ‘Flying Buttress’. The Carnegie steel sculpture is hard to miss since it stands before you as you open the clear doors to the exhibition room.  The Giacommeti-esque ‘legs’- about eight of them – hold the upper part of the sculpture – a long oval-shaped figure with tiny holes of the contouring line. Its thinness and fragile, trembling outlines are strange – and may evoke variations of this question: how can steel be so fragile and thin, when it is synonymous with strong and indestructible qualities?  The paradox is eminent in most of Labauvie’s work.

Flatness is up next.

This is what becomes a point of curiosity in most of his work in this exhibition. Why does ‘Flying Buttress’, a three-dimensional sculpture, appear to be ‘flat’?

primarystructuresInstallation view of the exhibition “Primary Structures” at the Jewish Museum in NYC, 1966: works by Donald Judd (left side) and Robert Morris (right side)

When we speak of sculpture vs. paintings – we often reference back to the radical 60’s when artists like Frank Stella and others were on the verge of modernism and something else by creating paintings that had the ‘look’ of a sculpture (given that they looked three-dimensional). For instance, lets take the work of Donald Judd, the minimalist. His famous cubes, and geometric wall installations are sculptural in essence, but can we truly say that the viewing experience is different as we walk around it?  Can we still think of this type of work as a two-dimensional piece of art work?

stellanuncaFrank Stella: Nunca, Para Nada, 1967 (metallic powder in polymer emulsion on canvas, 9’2 x 18’4)

“To see letters in their correct form of reading, and then looking at them in their reverse, they are illegible, but they are still the same letter”, Labauvie says in the show’s brochure.

“To make a sculpture that we can walk around is relatively boring to me […] it’s about frontality”. He then says, “ contemporary society works with two-dimensional imagery-most of our information is shared through screens of some kind.”

DSC_0268Labauvie’s Wire Sculptures (1986-2013). Photo credit: Victoria Casal-Data

This is exactly his intention.

Found behind the detached walls behind ‘Flying Buttress’, his smaller sculptures, a series of 44 minis called ‘Wire Sculptures’, work more-or-less the same. They appear to be three-dimensional but in turn are fully frontal as the display choices doesn’t completely allow for the spectator to view the tiny sculptures from several different angles. The material – the wire surrounding a champagne’s cork, is an interesting choice, as this reveal the weight of the work in an interesting way. Labauvie refers to these works as ‘doodles’ – insignificant drawings – a pastime. These turned out to be a great addition to the exhibition as it further shows Labauvie’s interest in turning the three-dimensional into the two-dimensional ‘images’ that are a staple of drawings.

Repetition comes as an important characteristic of the series, as it creates a sort of lyricism, a musical staff with its many components with a beginning and an end. Its fragile lines, and quasi-readable forms keep the viewers guessing as to what they are looking at – and what it all means. A wonderful metaphor of life indeed.

The two charcoal drawing sets, ‘Magnetic Fields’ and ‘Notes de Silence’, are evocative of abstract expressionistic works – perhaps Gottlieb’s, or even Motherwell’s black and white circle paintings. The black and white drawings were done in-situ with charcoal and white pastels. The white rectangles and trapezoids are connected by the black diamonds that float, descend, or ascend depending on how you look at them. Like AbEx’s works, these drawings work on scale.They take out a pretty good chunk of the wall, a bit overwhelming as you stand before them. Thin and fragile lines, and a balancing act are once again the main components.

So what about all of this frailness, thinness, flatness, and repetitiveness? What about the referential quality of his work (references to Gothic architecture, to Giacometti, and the modern masters)?

How can something so substantial in history still be so superficial in matter?

This is up to you to decipher.

Dominique Labauvie’s exhibition will be on view until September 26th, 2013 at the Gallery221@HCC on the HCC Dale Mabry Campus.

lat_squares081813_11300913_8colNotes de Silence (2013). Photo Credit: Edward Linsmear

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