Alan Wiener’s complex tabletop sculptures of matte black or white resin are ambiguous multilevel constructions that could represent abandoned dwellings from the ancient past as easily as models of future utopian high-rises. Interconnected waferlike discs are organized horizontally and vertically to form the “ceilings,” “floors” and “balconies” of small edifices (4½ to 22 inches high) that look, to this Chicagoan’s eyes, like Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina City having a meltdown. They also share aspects of natural formations that build up over time, such as stalagmites or coral. At once regular and irregular, architectural and organic, the sculptures seem rooted to the ground (here the pedestals) from which they spring like mushrooms.
Many of the works (all from 2009 to 2012) have a faint anthropomorphic quality, as if they’re on the verge of breathing. And it’s nearly impossible to look at these structures without imagining being inside them gazing out, or thinking about ways they might be utilized by humans . . . or aliens. Although any alien inhabitants would have to be cute and friendly to match the sculptures’ slightly cartoonlike ambience. With their scalloped edges, the white versions could even be seen as stacks of comic-strip thought bubbles.
While, like Gaudí’s buildings, Wiener’s constructions appear caught in the act of melting, in actuality they begin as fluids and end up solid. The materials (Aqua-Resin or Hydrocal) start out as liquid and powder, which, when mixed together, slowly harden. Wiener pours the substance onto a flat surface, waits for it to puddle and solidify, and then adds more in stages, rotating the previously poured parts as needed.
Light and airy as it is, Wiener’s work began with extreme density-that of actual concrete blocks and forms he fabricated to resemble them. From 1998 to 2008, he gradually removed parts of the blocks’ interiors to make them hollow and expose a “framework,” or amended them, inside and out, with decorative scalloped elements. In this exhibition, the discs are not an embellishment, but integral to the structure, which makes the marriage of geometry and the organic complete, and allows a new poetry to emerge.
The pieces have subtle personalities, each distinguished from the next, like clouds. The tiny sculptures seem no less important than the larger ones. One of the smallest looks like a black, futuristic Leaning Tower of Pisa, while some of the white ones, made up of larger forms, vaguely recall Mayan art. The plethora of possibilities for interpretation and the constant play with expectations of regularity in the grid keep the viewer engaged. The eye darts from element to element as it might when considering an abstract painting by de Kooning, or Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie-Woogie.
In an era where so much “sculpture” consists of gatherings of found objects, the commitment to handmade abstract objects is a radical act.
Photo: Alan Wiener: Palace of the Clam’s Dream, 2009, Aqua-Resin, 8½ by 11 by 8¾ inches; at Feature.