Four Women Artists Reconfigure Our Relations With Sculpture in New Public Art Fund Show

The Public Art Fund‘s latest thematic group show in Downtown Brooklyn’s Metrotech Commons, “Configurations” (through September 16, 2013), brings together new works by four women artists who introduce conspicuous materials and forms to the sterile pedestrian plaza. From what looks like a cryptic, photo-engraved tombstone to cinderblock-chic Neo-Classical colonnades, there’s plenty in PAF associate curator Andria Hickey‘s exhibition to reconfigure rushed office workers’ walks through the square.

The exhibition’s most surreal sight is surely Esther Kläs‘s trio of menhir-like mounds, “Gelift (RGB)” (2012, at top), cast in aquaresin, tinted otherworldly tones of red green, and blue, and ridged with cracks of other, equally unnatural colors. You half expect them to burst open, “Alien”-like, and reveal some terrifying newborn creature. An adjacent, pedestal-like stretch of concrete walkway complicates this sci-fi reading, and suggests a viewing platform for the three shapes whose form and proportion ominously suggest a human form huddled against some danger.

Allyson Vieira‘s tripartite installation “Weight Bearing” (2012, above) similarly makes use of the human body for scale: The artist’s height dictated how tall the six cinderblock columns would be stacked before being paired off with connecting steel I-beams. The Jenga-like pillars, sawed and sanded at odd angles, resemble industrial variations on Ursula Von Rydingsvard‘s sliced wood forms. Vieira imparts unexpected dimensions to the rudimentary construction material for what feels like both a radical update of Ancient Greek architecture and an Antony Gormley-like troupe of frozen humanoids.

The images in Valérie Blass‘s outdoor sculpture “Sculpture Bidon” (2012, above) — whose referents, “Orca Gladiator” (2012) and “(Meuble mécanique) marche pied, lampe-marteau” (2012, at bottom), are on view in the lobby of an adjacent office building, alongside a second, pleasantly unrecognizable piece by Vieira — are likewise frozen, digitally etched onto both side of an upright, tombstone-like slab of black granite. Both photographs feature a female figure in an elaborately detailed costume assuming a sculptural pose with an object. The combination of media, materials, and imagery manages to be both playful, ominous, and anachronistically historical, evoking early modernist fusions of photography and sculpture like Man Ray‘s “Black and White” (1926).

Katinka Bock offers a similarly irreverent take on a storied genre of sculpture with her installation “Personne” (2012, above), in which a bronze plinth in the form of a human silhouette stands not quite beneath a rudimentary steel shelter whose roof tilts forward so that the not-so-precious art object is showered whenever it rains. Like all the outdoor works here, especially Kläs and Vieira’s, Bock foregrounds her rough-hewn materials’ uncanny and affecting kinship to our own bodies.

— Benjamin Sutton