The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2015

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MAR 2015 Issue


Robin Peck, “Sculpture (Crania) 2,” (2013). Brass, steel, iron, aluminum, plaster, hydrocal, shellac, wax, 6.8 × 9.8 × 6 ̋. Courtesy of CANADA.

On View
February 21 – March 29, 2015
New York

In his book, Sculpture: A Journey to the Circumference of the Earth (Broken Jaw Press Inc, 2004), sculptor Robin Peck travels far and wide, immersing himself and his readers in foreign landscapes to ruminate on the nature of sculptural experience. He is consistently in the company of “the sculptor,” an anonymous figure, whom I took for a conjuring of Peck’s creative self.  

In meeting Peck at his current exhibition entitled Crania, I learned that this is both true and not true. He was, in fact, successively in the company of multiple sculptors but chose not to name them, leaving the door intentionally open for interpretations such as the above.

At CANADA are 12 of Peck’s roughly cranium-shaped sculptures on brown particleboard pedestals. Each sculpture has a plaster and urethane finish that belies the elaborate variety of materials beneath. Peck is very particular about these materials, keeping track as he makes the sculptures and consistently elaborating the invisible contents of each on the exhibition’s price list. This seems important on multiple levels.

Firstly, it has to do with the nature of sculpture, as Peck conceives it, having to do with the unseen, inner materials employed as armature and their relationship to the outward form of the object. This leads to a second consideration: as long as we are conceiving of an object in terms of a relationship between inner and outer, or in terms of any relationship at all, we are looking at the object in terms of movement or travel. This helps explain Peck’s statement, on page 110 of his book, that “sculptors understand travel precisely because their art is sedentary.”

The 12 sculpturesare far from uniform. “Sculpture (Crania) 2” (2013) is highly polished and shaped very much like a cranium, only slightly pitted showing the traces of the artist’s hand. “Sculpture (Crania) 21” (2014 – 15) distinctly resembles a landscape. “Sculpture (Crania) 3” (2013) looks, humorously, rather like a walnut. Taken as a set, which the grid of their presentation encourages, they are in unmistakable conversation with one another (much as crania should be) and give a ghostly impression of movement, calling to mind Donatello’s sense of sculptures, ideally, having actual life. In this sense, as in his use of plaster over an armature, Peck appears to be a classicist.

Yet there is something unfamiliar about the Crania, something alien. They taper slightly toward the base, which is formed by a tumescence that Peck identifies as necessary to lift the sculptures at all. A disembodied cranium is a bit of a contradictory evocation for such physical, hand-hewn objects. Whose crania are these? Ours or some other’s? And if not ours, do their imagined owners possess bodies like ours? Or do they exist only within the confines of their own cranial shell?

At one point in my discussion with the sculptor, Peck spoke of trust as a determining factor in understanding the relationship of inner and outer. He revealed what is in his sculptures, what is buried in the Crania, but we can only take his word for it.As we spoke, Peck often placed both hands on the sculptures, as though modeling. At one point, he allowed me to lift one. They are indeed heavy, much like our own.

Art lives in the imagination of a viewer. The imagination lives in the mind. By drawing attention to the secret power of inner material to determine outward appearance Peck links the imaginative powers with the physical world, inextricably connecting what is seen with the eyes with that which can only be grasped in the imagination. This suggests a not-so-classical vision of reality in space and time.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2015

All Issues