Charles Long

New York City

at Tanya Bonakdar


In an exhibition of five untitled sculptures, one wall-mounted and the rest freestanding (all but one 2009), Charles Long took a detour from the Los Angeles River and its detritus, from castaway shopping carts and water-bird feces. No longer assemblages incorporating found materials, his sculptures are abstract, linear steel armatures with occasional punctuation by rounded forms in modeling clay and other materials, all painted in colored acrylics. The sculptures are primarily modernist in feel, concerned with formal issues of space, scale, balance and weight. Yet Long’s eclectic palette of barely perceptible pastels, just shades away from white, and more saturated hues applied in gradating sprays, a little bit like the color in graffiti lettering, tilt the works toward Pop, if ever so slightly. Though they can be tall, the sculptures have open compositions, and the surface chroma performs a dematerializing function, so that they never feel heavy.

In places the sculptures retain the look of things washed up and scavenged, or seen along some waterway. In one piece, four sail shapes are nearly airborne, the culminating element in a bottom-to-top concatenation: three plates stacked off-kilter on the floor—blue, apricot and pale green—on which perches a rust-colored vertical bracket, rising to a rectangle of sky-blue slats resembling a rickety bamboo blind, and finally the white triangles. Though the piece is completely abstract, it has the specific redolence of a sunny day at a beach house, where one catches sight of a regatta through the window. It’s a breathtaking effect achieved with apparent ease.

Because they are so linear, the sculptures resemble drawings in space. A delicate ladder composed of Xs looking as if they were inscribed in thin air rises in a zigzag through the center of the tallest piece (10 feet high), capped by two jellyfishlike forms dangling tentacles. At times, too, the sculptures look like mobiles, though they do not move. But we move around them, and so they change. The central component of one piece is an empty, square frame at eye level; a lower corner is planted in something like a coral or mushroom cap sprayed pink and blue, which in turn balances on a flat form like a tree cutout, positioned perpendicularly to the frame. The frame itself is painted orange and blue, and sitting on its top rim, next to a blue net of painted steel, is an object that looks like a mangled buoy. Seen from one side, the frame disappears and becomes just a line, but from another it opens up into three dimensions, a clever tweaking of the whole idea of an unfolding view.

Concurrent with Long’s show, also in Chelsea, a beautiful installation of sculptures by Fred Sandback similarly conceived space as relative. By comparison, Long’s work seemed downright pictorial—an impression enhanced by the artist’s funny colors and flirtation with allusiveness.

Photo above: Charles Long: Untitled, 2009, acrylic, steel and mixed mediums, 100 by 58 by 27 inches; at Tanya Bonakdar.