David Adamo’s solo show of 13 sculptures and one painting conjured either an artist’s studio or the isolated cave of a mystic. A knee-high barrier built of stones extended from the gallery’s entrance through its long hallway before trailing off into the main space. Scattered upon the stones, as though discarded in haste by the aforementioned mystic (or artist), were plaster casts of half-eaten fruit. The main space was filled with vertical wood sculptures something like columns, with square bases and capitals, but with their central sections pared down to a slender rod, giving them the appearance of giant apple cores. Rough carving lent the works, each 6 feet or taller, an unfinished air, while a pile of wood shavings at the rear of the gallery contributed to the atmosphere of a studio left in medias res. One lone sculpture seemed the work of an obsessive perfectionist: fashioned into the shape of a violin handle, this single piece of wood, out of all present, seemed to have been deemed worthy of becoming an instrument.

The appealingly demented quality of the show was enhanced by a few cryptic touches: a thin, ungainly rope ladder in one corner stretched upward out of sight, disappearing into a skylight; a small red door was set into a wall; and a canvas painted to resemble an Oriental rug hovered above the hallway, suspended from the ceiling. But the main focus of the exhibition was the woodworking, which is Adamo’s signature process. In the past he has thrust axes into the wall then whittled their handles into shreds, and for his room-size installation last year at MoMA PS1’s “Greater New York” exhibition, he carpeted the floor with wooden baseball bats laid end to end, creating a creaky yet oddly stable base on which visitors could walk. Simple and unassuming, the intervention seemed like a crazy experiment in interior design.

At Untitled, the maniacal carving of the sculptures, the shards of wood and the rest harked back to a time when artists’ studios were unabashedly romanticized—one thinks of Alexander Liberman’s book The Artist in His Studio and the photographs of disorderly chaos in the studios of Francis Bacon or Alberto Giacometti. Adamo seems somewhat nostalgic for a moment in the 20th century when artists could be masters and reveal “mystic truths.” But he also gently mocks such grandiose myths. Whether or not Adamo still actually believes in the stereotype of the artist as an unruly genius, he successfully creates an atmosphere of enigma and mystery, a welcome feeling in an era of Too Much Information and a hyper-reflexive criticality that can kill off any pleasurable sense of the unknown.

Photo: View of David Adamo’s exhibition, 2011; at Untitled