Sunday, October 7, 2007

Martha Walker at 440 Gallery

All right, now, class; first lecture of the fall season: New York art scene 101-- Chelsea, Soho, Williamsburg.

Now let's follow that close behind by Dumbo, South Bronx, Red Hook, Park Slope...

Apply the brakes.

Wait-- Park Slope?

Everyone sing along now... "One of these things is not like the other..."

The quaint little neighborhood that is the cradle of all that is held dear by the stroller mom community?

But yes, indeed.

Recently I found a heretofore undiscovered gem located on a quiet block of Sixth Avenue, the artist-run collective 440 Gallery.

In its current show, "Undercurrents," sculptor Martha Walker takes leaps and bounds over the "sculpture community," creating amorphous formations that seem to take on a new life of their own.

There is a power to Walker's work that is immediate.

The structures she creates certainly display elements of the natural realm, (such as the giant conch shell, as above) but there is more at play here other than three-dimensional representation.

There is a true gothic sensibility to these works.

Walker is making work that expresses herself and her vision through a means that I feel currently is woefully under-represented in the gallery scene-- steel sculpture.

With the current focus on installation and the newfound "rediscovery" of painting, I find it seldom where I can find a show that brings back a genre that throughout history has helped to define art and the next pathways it will choose to go.

Unless we're commiserating on giving a retrospective to Serra and his mass-scale, I can't imagine in today's market where a sculptor like Rodin would go to be displayed.

Walker's works bring to mind an otherworldly realm-- much as if the kelp or octopi from the seabed uprooted itself; primordial ooze once again retaking the land.

Walker elegantly captures the motions of these structures in each steel loop and bend.

In the work at right, there certainly is ancient tribal art on display.

It brings to mind a ceremonial offering, if you will, or a tribute to the fertility goddess.

I found myself analyzing each and every curve and the dramatic texture of her works.

Painstakingly creating each steel droplet from above, dripping freshly from the blowtorch not unlike a candle making a wax seal, it forms a rudimentary surface similar to that of a freshly erupted volcano.

In this case, the hot lava bubbles up and out, leaving behind a rich and storied texture.

In the central piece of the show, Passion Unfurled, many will certainly see a central vulva, as well as a tongue-like nature to this work with its many bends and loops.

In some ways, Walker's dark and gothic sci-fi oeuvre is at war with the blatant sexuality of this piece.

I like how Walker highlights feminity, not necessarily using it for exploit, but instead creating a new creature with undulating motion.

Even the creature's feet have a whimsical notion-- looking not unlike something straight out of "Lord of the Rings."

In contrast to the more controversial Passion Unfurled, in her work at left, Pearl, the cherished treasure contains an almost fetal-like element which can be removed from the central structure and stand alone.

When docked in its "mother ship," if you will, it is caressed and cared for not unlike a small child in its mother's arms.

There's something about the craftsmanship of this piece that makes you almost fear for its safety as it goes out into the new world-- will it survive?

Only time will tell.

I also cannot help but also be reminded of the dominance of male artists in the New York art world, and how that little "pearl," if you will, could also represent the obstacles that female artists face when getting their work on display.

Great piece.

In the case of Walker's art, you certainly could classify it as one of the more dangerous undertakings of the different art mediums, for working with steel certainly is not one for the faint of heart.

The heavy structures are certainly not a simple duty in their formative stages.

Lifting and manipulating several hundred pounds of molten metal as it is super-heated to thousands of degrees is a painstaking task that requires sheer determination and will of heart.

What I liked the most about Walker was her true passion for her subject matter and dedication to the task at hand.

She actually records and keeps track of the hours spent on each piece-- some taking months to construct.

It is extremely time consuming, especially given the highly intricate detailing of her structures.

Take a look at this close-up of Passion Unfurled.

Each and every droplet and branch has been formed by the piece being on its back.

Walker's blowtorch superheats the steel from behind, and the liquified droplets with the assistance of gravity make a new formation-- not unlike the volcanic lava formations of the South Pacific.

In the case of Passion Unfurled, the piece weighs over 700 pounds and only came about in its current structure after originally meaning to be a river bed.

Walker realized when the piece cleaved in two, it transformed into a formation of rollicking sensuality at play.

Even though Walker's work certainly has a gothic undertone, given its "all black all the time" quality, (something we here at the Musings have been a bit obsessed with as of late) it is truly embracing the organic realm.

In some ways her work reminded me of my recent review of the fantastic painter Janaina Tschape, who concentrates on embryonic structures.

It's almost as if Tschaipe's structures have leaped off the canvas into sculpture formations.

Much of Walker's structures as well take on a honeycombing effect, or that of seed pods.

The open loops appear to be so delicate, you can barely imagine that they started off as steel bars.

I enjoyed examining how each branch connects seemlessly with the next.

There is such a unique flow to her work.

In her own words, Walker states how the process of creating these works is "meditative" for her.

I think the viewer will find this as well.

Walker's work will be up through Sunday, October 14th.

440 Gallery is located at 440 Sixth Avenue in Brooklyn, just a few blocks from the F train stop at 7th Avenue.

For more information, go to:

or you can check out more of Walker's work at:

1 comment:

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