Oscar Tuazon inaugurated Daniele Balice and Alexander Hertling’s new gallery in scrappy Belleville, arguably the hottest art district in town, with a solo show provocatively titled “Ass to Mouth.” The gallery is just down the road from the space the young dealers used to share with the influential collective Castillo/Corrales, co-founded by Tuazon in 2007. The American artist, more of a wanderer than a true expatriate, has been warmly welcomed in Paris—he is a nominee for the prestigious Prix Fondation d’entreprise Ricard, sponsored by the Centre Georges Pompidou and the Pernod-Ricard spirits company, which donates 10,000 euros (about $15,000) to enable the Pompidou’s purchase of a work by the laureate. Tuazon has cemented his reputation locally and internationally with brute, sculptural works he coaxes out of building materials and that either verge on architecture or have a strong architectural impact on the spaces they inhabit.

It was possible to overlook Not Titled Yet (2009), which stood in the narrow entry-cum-office parallel to the plate glass storefront. This simple L-shaped sculpture is fabricated out of a sturdy vertical tree branch bolted to a wooden plank. Together they just barely straddle a hollow, horizontal metal base that holds the two components in equilibrium. To say the work is reminiscent of lovers embracing, the cylindrical head of the branch leaning in to kiss the flat face of the plank, would be far too sentimental; to say the work is totemic, far too connotative of Tuazon’s native Pacific Northwest. Not Titled Yet feels both permanent and provisional, mastered and thrown together from materials at hand, like a homesteader’s marker that stakes a claim.

A serious ratcheting up of tension occurred in the main gallery with the room-size installation Ass to Mouth, titled after the slang for anal-to-oral sex. Ass to Mouth is composed of two rectangular elements: a broad, shallow slab of concrete on the floor and a steel frame, stretched with translucent plastic sheeting and patched with electrical and packing tape, which was hung from the ceiling and hovered like an off-center canopy over the concrete, not unlike Richard Serra’s mammoth steel Delineator (1974-75). Visible from below, slick pools of water trapped in the plastic leaked rust-tinged liquid onto the concrete slab, resulting in muddy foot tracks in the narrow path around it. The dampness, coupled with the gallery’s harsh fluorescent lighting, brought electrocution to mind, and this, along with the distinct sense that the weight of the frame might suddenly fracture the single beam onto which it clung, heightened one’s bodily awareness of the work and surrounding space. Whether the idea of ass-to-mouth turns you on or turns you off, Tuazon’s title is a perfect metaphor for the terribly pleasurable and wholly discomfiting physicality of this large-scale sculptural environment. Here, Tuazon’s work surpassed occupying the gallery; it actually possessed it.

Photo: Oscar Tuazon: Ass to Mouth, 2009, steel, Plexiglas, plastic, tape, water and concrete; at Balicehertling.