The work of artist Charles Ray draws particular strength from its deliberateness and commitment to concept. The artist’s figurative sculptures are direct in their depiction, yet draw particular strength from the nuance of their subject matter, and the mastery of the artist’s hand. Returning to New York for a show of new work at Matthew Marks this month, Ray has once again cemented this reputation, bringing a small but powerful selection of works to bear on the gallery space, and once again underscoring why he is a living legend in the world of contemporary sculpture.
Ray’s work, on view at both W 22nd Street locations, is an exercise in focus. At 522 West 22nd Street, he has divided the gallery space up into a series of rooms graced with single works, creating a series of small salons where the viewer can consider each piece in all of its detail and nuance. Ray’s Reclining Woman, for instance, draws particular strength in its subtle overemphasis on scale, the female form and all of its curves and lines allowed to unfold at a scale that brings particular emphasis both to the beauty of the human form, and to Ray’s intense detail. By contrast Mountain Lion Attacking a Dog (2018) brings the viewer into close proximity with a scene of intense violence, creating a site where the fear and power of the event depicted is made all the more intense through a sense of familiar intimacy with the work, the smaller scale encouraging viewers to lean in and examine the detailed surfaces of the animals’ muscular bodies, and the last moments of the animal’s life.
Next door at 526 West 22nd Street are a pair of small-scale sculptures, Mechanic 1 and Mechanic 2 (2018), depicting the same figure in two different poses: one removes the wheel rim from an automobile tire while the other crouches and watches attentively. Both made from machined solid stainless steel and painted in a matte white finish, the artist’s work gives off a sense of figurative delicacy that belies its industrial construction. The subtle semiotic underpinnings of this work, underscoring its roots as a piece of metallic, industrially-produced material, serves as a striking conceptual contrast to a surface that seems imply the delicacy and fragility of porcelain. Ray’s abilities here are folded through a distinctly fascinating second operation on the signs of the sculpture, burying the pieces’ origins in service of a sustained consideration.
For it’s likely that it is the act of looking, of meditating and examining the work, that sits at the core of Ray’s explorations of sculpture. Playing on these simple inversions of scale as a mode of distancing the viewer from the subject matter by subtle degrees, the artist opens up a delicate balance between the act of looking and the subject of that same act.
The artist’s work is on view through June 16th.
— D. Creahan
Charles Ray: three rooms and the repair annex [Matthew Marks]