"Sculptors ReCollected" turns the Massry Gallery at the College of Saint Rose into what is almost a primer on contemporary sculpture and sculptural installation. Francis Cape, James Clark, and Judy Pfaff are each given a third of the gallery to make very different dimensional statements as part of a splashy 10th anniversary celebration of the Massry.
Each artist has a style that is easy to grasp, and generally easy to like. The most severe and arguably most uncompromising work comes from Francis Cape in a range of forms based on interior architecture. Cape originally studied wood carving in the 1970s and his love of wood remains, but he is no whittler by the campfire. The present works are highly finished and pristine, each the unbottled essence of a certain kind of furniture or cabinetry—a table, a wooden wall with bench, a short wall.
If Cape makes work that seems almost empty in its monochrome plainness, it resonates for the same reason. What can go wrong with such a quiet declaration of form that resides in a kind of history of domestic design? These archetypes strike me as without code, or any ulterior polemics. They simply reside.
The various illuminated tubes by James Clark are what you might call light sculpture. Repeating elements of plastic or Plexiglas augment the light, blocking, refracting, and reflecting it. These are not quite minimalist the way Don Flavin's works are, but the additional plastic forms, often just a curving plexi or vinyl sheet that wriggles around the tube or undulates around the glow, remain simple.
I must say, I'd like one of these in my house — not because it's cutting-edge sculpture, which it isn't, but just because of that magical glowing tube of light. Here in the gallery, the best effect might be from a distance, taking in that part of the space with all half dozen glowing objects scattered about. They do sit like decorative lamps, and there is not much sophistication beyond the obvious material interactions. The green, as an indication, is called "Mr. Green." At night, the neon (or argon etc.) glow might be enough to carry the work beyond its sculptural limitations.
Limitations are surely not things Judy Pfaff needs to consider. Her three large, wall-mounted sculptural explosions are about effusion and overload. And bombast. Even the titles are crazy, like "Q1 of Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4?" I'm guessing a fourth work didn't fit the space, which is too bad, because it's wild stuff.
In all three, a flat backdrop to the dimensional protrusions is by itself a nightmarish kind of distorted collage of what she calls "photographic inspired digital images." These might be tacky seen alone, but they do kick off a dizzying effect for the rest of it, which bursts outward in many forms and materials: fungus (indeed), melted plastic (which looks a little like something a monster has regurgitated), aluminum discs and glitter (for shine), Styrofoam, and so on.
Integrated lights create a contrasty kind of mass where your eye can bob and weave between wires and globs and bits of who knows what. It's oddly not the chaos it sounds, and this is part of its singular success. Will this strike some people as ugly? No doubt. But if you are drawn to a diversity of surfaces and forms in improbable colors, this is delicious.
In every instance here we have a contemporary art that resides in three dimensions, art that requires physical engagement and space to move around. Sculpture, that is. But this is sculpture that is large enough to also require a sense of containment provided by the gallery itself, working off the walls, pouring into the space. In three extremely different ways.
William Jaeger is a frequent contributor to the Times Union.
Image: Judy Pfaff "Q1" of "Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4" 2018 (mixed media)