Off Their Pedestals
Sculpture Center, Cleveland

As it morphs its way into the twenty-first century. sculpture is tough to define. So-called
“traditional” works, cast in metal or hewn from stone, co-exist with a vast range of harder-to-
pigeonhole 3D essays executed in every material and format imaginable. And at this late
point in modernity, all sorts of audiences show up at galleries and museums, varying in
their receptivity to new forms. That being the case, the Sculpture Center’s third annual On
A Pedestal and Off The Wall exhibit, on view through April 21, isn’t for everybody. Those
who loved Viktor Schrekengost’s selection of objects for this same show last year, probably
won’t appreciate many of the more au courant concerns and biases shown here by
eminent environmental sculptor, editor and educator Don Harvey.

For one thing, there’s the presentation. Schreckengost’s picks in granite and bronze were
scattered on the tops of a jumble of white pedestals, like a casual display in a nineteenth or
early twentieth century salon. Harvey’s show, on the other hand, takes place about a
hundred years down the road of art history and could as easily be called “Off a Pedestal,
On the Wall.” Dietrich Wegner’s 2005 three foot tall silicone sculpture Bomber Boy, for
instance, stands in little white stocking feet on the gallery’s carpet, while Case Conover’s
inflammatory 2004 Match America (it’s a map of the United States made from a couple of
thousand red match heads stuck in the corrugated chambers of cardboard end-cuts,
sandwiched together) hangs next to a door, for all the world like a piece with 2D ambitions.

Other “sculptures” are affixed to walls in various ways, or hang from the ceiling. Then there’
s a video (how could there not be a video?), by Columbus artist Mark VanFleet. Called
Tape Measure Ceiling, it runs about three minutes and shows five men trying to extend
their tape measures as high up as possible in a large gallery-like room. Only one seems to
be able to do it. The mixed phallic competition / space exploration metaphor would make
even Captain Kirk blush.

And although eleven pedestals are indeed deployed here and there in the exhibit, most of
the art sitting on them is not your average pedestal fare. An award for best – and weirdest
– use of materials ought to go to an aquatic mixed media work composed in a fishbowl.
Goldfish Swims (2005) strokes along an undercurrent that artist Lauren Kalman finds
ebbing between jewelry and mortality. Materials include a goldfish carcass, latex (possibly
an inflated condom), and gold-plated electroformed copper. The goldfish, which is more
black and gray, is visible underwater as a tail and half a body, but then burgeons into a
delicately knobby cluster of gold and copper, like a mermaid tangled in jewels. The latex
shape is attached to cork and protrudes above the water, looking like an over-sized egg.

Just as odd, but in a more conventional idiom, is a group of three ceramic crows, raising
their beaks from a block of clay, seemingly trying to escape from a cat’s cradle-like tangle
of greasy string. Titled My Own Worst Enemy Series (2007), the struggling group evokes
panic and feelings of entrapment with rare, terse visual force. As an added, rather
postmodern feature, artist Ilena Finocchi mentions that her earthenware work is smoke-
fired, and sure enough, if you get close enough it smells like beef jerky.

Finocchi’s work is one of those mounted on an actual pedestal, but well-known Akron
University artist Kate Budd brought her own slender tripods. Known for her work in molded
wax, Budd’s two small sculptures at On A Pedestal, called pink fruit (with tutu) (2006) are
also in that medium, with the addition of corsage pins and rawhide. The more active of
these figures is pear-shaped and lurches backward, balanced precariously on the knobs of
its corsage pins, gesturing with several more toward its tutu-clad partner. This vaguely
comic character seems to have stopped dancing and rests on its side like Humpty Dumpty
in drag. Perched on neighboring oval platforms as if spot-lit on stage, Budd’s sculptures
here have a satirical bent as they allude to the pricks and comic postures that flesh is heir
to.

Mounted near the floor, but raised above it on a four-inch high platform, is Jake Beckman’s
Excised (2007). A line of found asphalt and cement chunks, diminishing in size like eroding
pinnacles along a shore, sits in a shallow pool of motor oil poured in a large, rectangular
stainless steel tray. On the largest mini-plateau, a tiny model of an oil pump slowly seesaws
up and down. The black pump blends in the with the asphalt and at first is in fact almost
invisible, so that part of the effectiveness of Beckman’s piece is the tension between the
work’s configuration as pure abstraction on the one hand, and as a distinct re-creation of
an industrial scene.

 On A Pedestal’s selection of 27 works by 21 artists manages to include a little bit of
everything while still maintaining some sense of thematic integrity. Closest to more
traditional sculptural approaches are J. Derek O’Brien’s Polli (2004) ( a pig constructed of
cast iron frying pans), Greg Martin’s mysteriously elegant cast concrete and found object
Eclipse Machine (2004), and Greg Mueller’s nine foot tall steel and cast-iron construction
titled Stela Column (2005). Fluctuating on the margins of the postmodern, Artemis Herber’s
blue acrylic on cardboard flags (2006) makes some conceptual waves as it flutters along a
low plinth. Long-time northern Ohio favorites Christine French and Renee Culler make
interesting appearances with signature works involving, respectively, feathers and cast
glass. The always memorable (and reliably funky) Akron sculptor Mark Soppeland
contributes a faux Egyptian shrine to a cat-like deity, while newcomers Abigail Good (Orgy,
2006), Janet Mikolajczyk (Measuring Space, 2006), Leslie Pontz (Cactus Flowers #1 and
#9, 2004), Alex Hibbitt (Natural History #1, 2005), Dana Goodman (Hercules in The
Garden, 2006), Abigail Good (Orgy, 2006), Donna Webb (Root, 2006), and Nicole Herzing
(Untitled, 2005) add their own variously funky and formal elements to the mix.

This year’s On A Pedestal represents a clear break from the exhibit’s two earlier
incarnations, announcing the arrival of the Sculpture Center’s new director Ann Albano,
who was formerly MOCA Cleveland’s widely respected registrar. For a leaner and more
contemporary showing, Albano not only enlisted Don Harvey’s expertise for the occasion,
but also extended the show’s call for entries to Indiana and Pennsylvania. It’s an exciting
start to a new era at this unusual Cleveland institution, and is likely to be the first of many
innovations.

[Free Times 4/11/07]