Inga Danysz: In Ancient Rome
On ViewGood Weather
May 22–July 30, 2022
There is something old and familiar, yet out of step in Inga Danysz’s new sculptures. Glistening tombs for the future, they hint that something has already passed, but whatever that thing is—an object, a person—it has yet to come. Or maybe it has come and gone unnoticed, and is now poised to return.
In her first solo show at Good Weather, Danysz clings to bygone objects associated with the potential for an afterlife: sarcophagi. As burial vessels, they put things to rest; their contents are not to be seen or touched again. Despite this, they also preserve what is inside. They are durable forms fit for copying. Moreover, mimicry is implicit in their design: they follow and frame the contours of the body and historically served as a substitute or stand-in for the human remains housed inside. But Danysz’s sculptures, made of aluminum, stainless steel, and glass, acknowledge a much more recent past as well: the movements of Minimalism and Pop that prospered in the sixties.
Spread across two small galleries, the work is installed in repetition. Each room features an aluminum sarcophagus along with a secondary sculpture, obscured from immediate view. On the north wall adjacent to the gallery entrance, ten glass rungs secured to stubby steel cylindrical supports run up the length of the wall—their even intervals determined by the material constraints of the room. Titled Ladder (Chicago) (2022), the work punctuates the scale of the viewer’s surroundings. One can imagine an iteration of this work with the same ten pieces in another room in another city. The spaces between the rungs might expand or contract depending on the height of the wall, but the conceit would remain the same. This site-specific installation has clear affinities with the work of Donald Judd, and Danysz’s riff on his sequential idiom asserts both the spatial context of the room and the art historical context of the sculpture’s precedents. The environment that the work inhabits, then, becomes central to the artistic experience, a theatrical conceit famously abhorred by critic Michael Fried. The work distances the viewer, creating an experience defined by its inexhaustibility: the viewing situation comes to encapsulate anything and everything.
In contrast to Minimalist sculpture, which emphasized abstraction and literalism, Danysz’s recent work is emphatically illusory. While her use of metal panels to construct hollow receptacles recalls the industrial ductwork sequences of Minimalist sculptor Charlotte Posenenske, they are much closer to Pop in the way that they recreate the instantly identifiable form of a coffin. If Minimalism distances the viewer through its human scale and temporal context, Pop distances the viewer through the act of reproduction. Danysz performs both strategies, reproducing a manufactured object—both the Minimalist sculpture and the coffin, each in its own way a substitute for a physical body—and creating a situation that depends on a viewer’s awareness of their own body in the room. The sculpture is not quite abstract, not quite figurative, but rather teeters on the precipice of both.
Danysz does not just create forms that imitate a generalized body, she also imbues her figures with life. When visitors first approach Sarcophagus 01 (2022) straight on, the upright tomb appears static and impenetrable. Framed by two doorways that sharpen our sense of linear perspective, its dull sheen reflects a blur of oneself and one’s surroundings. But get closer and the coffin is not as closed off as it appears. Fitted with hinges, it stands ajar. The slight turnout resembles a pivot in the hips of someone turning to greet you. Peer into the raw interior and the impression of a handprint remains visible across the coffin’s chest. Similarly, Danysz animates Sarcophagus 02 (2022) through the imitation of human posture. Slouched with bent knees and head leaned against the wall, the resting figure sits comfortably. It is a natural position that one is inclined to mirror.
As in past work, Danysz brings out the defective. Her spoofs of Giancarlo Piretti’s iconic late-sixties Plia chair, in which tumorous, yellowed, blown-glass volumes replace perfectly molded plastic, epitomize her penchant for degenerating form, and this visual language extends to the precarious construction of the works on view here. Stitched together with temporary tack welding, the structures threaten to collapse at any moment. Formally, they are unfinished, an incompleteness expressed also by the rhetoric of their arrangement in space. The open lid of Sarcophagus 01 reminds us that a coffin is meant to stay shut, but here, the viewer waits in anticipation, wary of an imagined person—they have either already left, risen from the dead, or have yet to arrive at their demise. In contrast to the tension constructed by this open-ended container, Sarcophagus 02 depicts an unraveling. Bent out of shape and lacking the rigidity of a uniform rectilinear encasement, the length of the tomb zigzags. In the resulting hinged openings, a crisp, pleated fabric insert expands like an accordion. Insides unfurling, the slumped figure gives itself up. In each case, Danysz seems to suggest that these structures can no longer hold. They are exhausted.
As a counterpoint to Danysz’s more dramatic objects of excess, the corner of the back gallery contains a small but conspicuous stainless steel collection box set into the wall. With a single slit large enough for spare change, Untitled (2022) invites visitors to make humble contributions in the form of coins. This locked box resonates with the show’s themes of death and burial, recalling funerary offerings and the placement of coins over the eyes of the deceased. More expansively, however, it is an invitation to let something go. In his 1962 essay “Contemporary Art and the Plight of its Public,” critic Leo Steinberg identifies the peculiar situation of an artist or critic who must reckon with the fact that something they cling to has lost its value. This is an inescapable situation for the observer of challenging art: the avant-garde strikes a painful blow to someone too comfortable with their present sensibilities. In looking back at the legacy of her antecedents, however, Danysz wants for nothing. Stripped of their weight, emptied of their signification, her excavated forms have an exceptional lightness. Ready to be scattered like ashes, they generously offer themselves up to be received and released.