Developed over the past seven years, Jedediah Caesar’s signature sculptures are made from scraps of wood, cloth, cardboard and plastic that he mixes with liquid resins in buckets, boxes and other containers. When the debris-laden concoctions harden, he has often presented them as large chunks, or sliced them into thin panels. Although aspects of this practice turned up in Caesar’s recent show, many of the seven new works (all 2010) replaced material congestion with a surprising restraint.
The most familiar-seeming sculpture in the show was also the least satisfying, partly because its 31 panels (each 14 by 10 inches) were displayed at floor level, forcing the viewer to crouch to inspect their myriad details. Like many of Caesar’s earlier works, these rectangular cross sections of trash-filled resin blocks resemble slabs of veined marble; sometimes, bits of glass, wood and plastic are embedded in their milky swirls. (All titles, by the way, consist of punctuation marks arranged to mimic each sculpture’s shape, and are difficult to print.)
By contrast, several other works appeared deceptively soft and porous, and seemed more organic than mineral. Leaving debris out of the mix, Caesar has begun pouring earth-toned resins into rectilinear molds before slicing the hardened volumes into small, squarish panels. Twenty of these squares spanned a corner of the gallery in a checkerboard design, each displaying irregular zones of muted green, brown, orange, blue or violet. When viewed up close, they reveal countless ruptured air bubbles on their surfaces, as if each square were a paint-soaked sponge. Similar perforations appeared in two larger examples of this technique (both about 6 by 5 feet), in each of which a pair of proximate cross sections were stacked against the wall, creating strong impressions of sequential growth. In one version, the contours of a greenish wave shifted from one panel to the next, suggesting the creep of a velvety moss.
A very large and lumpy sculpture rested on the floor and looked like a pile of dirt—which it was, more or less. Caesar recently dug a long, irregular hole on the grounds of the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City and cast the cavity in plaster. When flipped over in the gallery, a layer of earth clung to its convex surface, as did numerous stones, pieces of broken glass and some scraggly plant roots. While the sculpture literally exposed the site’s previous use as a landfill, it also reprised the creative tactics of Bill Bollinger, an overlooked artist who cast many iron sculptures from shallow holes in the 1970s. But unlike Bollinger’s solid and heavy abstractions, Caesar’s plaster cast is a thin and hollow index of a hole, a fact confirmed by the shadowy separations between the sculpture and the floor. Once noticed, that gap lent the grimy mound an uncanny buoyancy, and underscored the lighter hand at work throughout the show.