Finding a niche

By GREG COOK  |  June 4, 2010

Untitled (Male Torso That Left His Path) (1992-'95) is a massive reclining figure, from chest to thighs (and check out that penis), that riffs on classical sculptures. The tires and their treads become rippling muscles, sinews, scars, pores. It's a body as powerful as a monster truck. A DeCordova wall text notes echoes of traditional African textiles and ritual scarification. Booker is African-American, and here, black tires speak of race, of the whiteness of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures (in fact, most of classical sculpture was originally painted, depicting folks with Mediterranean complexions and curly dark hair), of the exclusion of blackness from traditional Western art history. The piece is unusual for her because the tires here are prominent in their tire-ness. For Booker, tires usually are a blank starting point, like canvas for a painter, something she can transform into something else — scales, feathers, armor, vines, fur, vulvas.

Shhh (2006) is a 20-foot tower, with a ramp leading up to a big oval hole at its center, and then another ramp perched on the top that sort of suggests horns. The bottom of the oval slants away from us and the top leans toward us, giving the whole thing a contrapposto posture. Wiggly, vertical folds cover one side. Spiky rubber feathers cover the back. It looks like a totem erected by H.R. Giger aliens.

It's So Hard To Be Green (2000), which was featured in the 2000 Whitney Biennial, is a dark, churning, 21-foot-wide wall of rubber. Tires become tentacles, anemones, barnacles, eels, crashing waves, strange pointy-sharp blossoms. The title is a variation on Kermit the Frog's "It's Not Easy Being Green," which he sings at the beginning of The Muppet Movie (1979), first lamenting and then championing his skin color. So we're pointed toward thoughts on race, as well as sustainable green living. Some say that the recycled tires reflect Booker's environmental concerns, but this seems a minor interest to her, something she happened on by accident. The real power of the piece is in the way the accumulation and the repetition of small shapes develop a kinetic, ominous, overwhelming force.

In addition to curating the Booker show, Capasso has also acquired British sculptor Antony Gormley's Reflection II (2001); it was installed in March. Gormley is celebrated for his self-portraits — such as his gang of naked metal men that were perched on various Manhattan buildings this spring like would-be suicides.

Reflection II is a pair of rusty, rough, cast-iron, look-alike naked dudes standing staring at each other, one inside the glass wall of the lobby, the other outside, like reflections. Gormley's work often has a sci-fi look, as if his figures were clones with their features wiped off, or the figures were breaking apart into atoms. Sometimes this can give his work a memorably creepy futuristic vibe. But just as often the work seems like a lame retread of Modernist abstraction or a generic take on the figure. Reflection II is all of the above, plus a corny optical-illusion one-liner.

The museum bills this as the "first in a series of major acquisitions made possible" by its recent financial gifts, something that "moves DeCordova toward its goal of becoming one of the pre-eminent sculpture parks in the country within a decade." Uh oh.

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