Keith Lemley and Christy Wittmer at the Sculpture Center
Keith Lemley: “Superstructure”
Sculptor Keith Lemley’s installation “Superstructure” consists of four groupings of white neon tubes interspersed with chunks of wood cut in the shapes of irregular polyhedrons, faceted with prismatic reflective surfaces. Each of these stakes out a portion of the Cleveland Sculpture Center’s long interior gallery, unfolding in triangles of light across the polished concrete floor or up a wall and over portions of the ceiling. Lemley’s variable-proportions works are part of the Sculpture Center’s current W2S (Windows to Sculpture) series of exhibitions, a highly successful yearly program which introduces emerging artists to area audiences, usually two at a time in its two very differently configured galleries.
Abstract works like Lemley’s shown in the Sculpture Center’s windowless, white-box style gallery don’t have to fight for attention with natural light sources, or much of anything else. The bare rectangular room makes a neutral backdrop for all kinds of formal explorations – especially now that the original brushed-concrete floors have been restored. Lemley’s work fits into the space perfectly, as a sort of mathematical fantasy, a dream where glowing lines of light multiply as geodesic parameters. It seems like the prismatic oak and chestnut wooden stumps, placed on the floor in the middle of the linear action, are controlling and projecting the growth of the piece; eventually, like a climbing, ever-increasing electric vine, interconnecting triangles will replace the gallery walls entirely, converting the rectangle into a great sphere or series of spheres. Lemley is most of all interested in re-charging our core experience of the world. The artist, who has exhibited widely since earning his 2010 MFA from the University of Wisconsin, writes:
“My work is about seeing the unseen – the invisible presence which exists in our minds and surrounds all objects, experiences, and memories. I have developed a keen interest in being part of and observing natural systems, time and the process of life and death, and an aesthetic sensibility synthesizing the organic and the machine.”
“Superstructure” sketches a search for points of convergence, where math and matter mix together in revelatory, light-infused strings of vision.
Christy Wittmer: “Approaching Softness”
The Sculpture Center’s Euclid Avenue Gallery is a converted, century-old storefront showroom, long and narrow with worn but highly polished hardwood floors, a varnished red brick wall, and a window onto the sidewalk. If the Center’s other exhibit space is all about giving art a tabula rasa for presentation, this one is a stage packed with its own textures and history. At “Approaching Softness” the room’s informal properties improvise an active partnership with Christy Wittmer’s already deeply idiosyncratic art. Her highly personal combinations stimulate acts of looking by dipping familiar formal arrangements in unexpected flavors of sensation. Hard to pin down pale half-colors mute the impact of peculiar proportions (like “Nest,” which is a small nest of shredded paper on a little platform ten feet off the floor), and mysterious textures.
“Meridian” has a lumpy archeological presence. It slightly resembles a damaged stone urn, or a sand-eroded statuette, decorated with rows of tiny square marks incised all around its lower half, like an ancient tally. It rests on a round plinth set on a box, elevated by long, stilt-like legs which make it about the height of a person. These articulations are its limbs, torso, and head, and as a depiction or evocation the whole piece seems as much like a being as an object, at once quick and inert. Similarly, a list of Wittmer’s materials reveals substances ancient and modern, sacred and profane. Ceramic elements are combined with wood, cement, goldleaf, gold luster, and sheep skin, plus Hydrocal®, a gypsum cement used as a plaster. Despite or as a result of all these intersections of historical reference with fine art and contemporary building materials her work reads as somehow futuristic. Rather than being merely obscure, her mysterious configurations and unfamiliar textures meditate on the unknown, on the holes that develop as the fabric of cultural usage stretches over the lacunae of discourse, around and over things not known, not used. Wittmer is thinking, or feeling, about the strange unevenness of the present moment, as it too rapidly reconfigures the past.
“Swell” brings to mind natural conditions and landscape, but also fleshly shape and flow. It looks like a pillow sitting on a smooth, tide-moulded, quartz-veined igneous rock. Or like a cloud over a little hill, or a Buddha belly bulging over the hard knot of the universe. The pillow and rock rest on a strange abstract altar (or pedestal, or end table), which stands thigh-high on three rectangular legs, terminating at the floor in balls of puffy white material, studded with pebbles. The very uncertain texture/substance of the pillow element is what fascinates here. Is it hard or soft, heavy or light, crushing or enveloping? In fact it’s soft, like memory foam, but you can’t tell – it could easily be as hard as a surrealist sculpture, as an Arp or a Noguchi. And the “stone” that it’s guarding like a little chick is actually a trompe-l’œil porcelain object. Things aren’t what they seem in Wittmer’s work, but more to the point, her objects and material situations raise questions about seeming itself, and about reality.