Installation of Kirk Stoller’s sculpture at Mary Ryan Gallery
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Any genre of art has its own set of rewards, pitfalls and clichés. The tradition of the found object can seem especially prone to the latter. The challenge of recycling ephemera is in overcoming (or thwarting) a readymade veneer of history. Too many artists coast on the romance of the found object, milking its surface appeal and playing to nostalgia. It’s hard to transform junk into magic. There’s a reason Joseph Cornell is a singular figure.
Kirk Stoller, whose found object sculptures are on display at Mary Ryan Gallery, isn’t Cornell, but neither is he Richard Tuttle. While Stoller flirts with Tuttle’s piss elegant brand of post-minimalist caprice, he doesn’t succumb to its glib charms. Instead, Stoller elicits a fine strain of animism from the cobbling together of lumberyard oddments. Scraps of wood (sometimes painted; sometimes not), rusty bits of iron and other disabused utilitarian materials are perched atop and against each other with acrobatic finesse.
Actually, “cobbling” is too muscular a word for what Stoller does. His accumulations of detritus are almost alarmingly casual in their precariousness. You tiptoe around the pieces—hold your breath, in fact—for fear of knocking them over. This attribute signals Stoller’s knack for distillation and choreography. It also hints at why the work can, in more skeptical frames of mind, appear artful and cute. Describing someone’s art as “Calder-esque” isn’t always a commendation.
Mostly, though, Stoller’s precision-tuned emphasis on line, mass, volume and (less so) color waylays critical quibbles with considerable aplomb and, or so we are told, gravitas. The sculptures “reflect the precipice of our current world situation… it is possible to foresee both the enlightenment of the human race and its destruction.” That’s a lot to ask from Home Depot cast-offs and not much to ask at all: What artist since Day One hasn’t felt the same way? But Stoller builds upon his diversions in witty and adroit ways. He’s an artist worth keeping an eye on.
© 2011 Mario Naves
Originally published in the July 12, 2011 edition of City Arts.