Galleries: Metal Sculptures’ low-key Wit, Charm, and Color

Edith Newhall
12/13/2009

We’ve seen small, abstract sculptures constructed of found materials before—from Richard Tuttle’s thoughtfully lumpen ones to Bill Walton’s sublime, carefully crafted ones—and whose used parts from our polyglot American past give them an ineffable poignancy, like a song whose words we’ve forgotten. Ted Larsen’s recent metal sculptures and assemblages at Schmidt Dean Gallery bring a little something different to the table.

They’re the Johnny Mercer lyrics of this genre, you might say, born of a naturally generous low-key wit and charm that is often alien to the art world. Even when his forms are boxlike (and they frequently are), they don’t give a vibe of difficult, reserved, or restrained.

A good part of the allure of Larsen’s work comes from its colors and patinas. Larsen salvages his painted scrap metal from cars, buildings, and industrial equipment, cuts it into large sections on site, and then into smaller pieces in his studio. The evidence of the past lives of these materials is easy to detect in their painted, slightly distressed surfaces—some peeling here, cracking there, yellowing at the edges—and many of these scraps’ paint colors, such as a 1950s aqua, openly declare their automobile and refrigerator roots.

At the same time, Larsen’s sculptures and his two-dimensional assemblages, constructed from metal triangles of such vintage familiars as soft-yellow ochre, avocado green, and ivory white, transcend their ‘50s-to-‘70s car/kitchen associations and simultaneously hark back to Early American quilts and game boards and look forward to contemporary abstract painting.

The shapes and forms in his new pieces are diverse, but their common scale mitigates these differences. His quilt like, two-dimensional assemblages are the easiest, most immediately appealing works in his show, while his sculptures—such as Joined Box Structure or Delicate Wall Drawing Construction, which suggest contained continuums—mark a stretch and a risk.

 

Schmidt Dean Gallery, 1710 Sansom St., 10:30 a.m.- 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. 215-569-9433 or www.schmidtdean.com. Through Jan. 24.