Mel Kendrick at David Nolan Gallery

Detail Image

Mel Kendrick, Blockheads (2011), wood, approx. 12-1/2″ x 9″ x 7″; courtesy David Nolan Gallery

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The wonder of Mel Kendrick’s sculptures, the subject of an exhibition at David Nolan Gallery, is how deftly they skirt kitsch. The irksome thing about Kendrick’s sculptures is that the artist may well be unaware of the daredevilry he’s pulled off.

Kendrick has been a steady presence in the New York art scene for some 30 years, his riffs on Constructivist principles having proved reliably smart and commendably un-flashy. But the Nolan show, a gathering of works spanning the years 1995 to (as the title has it) “now,” is the first time Kendrick has done more than elicited my cautious respect. He’s made me simultaneously question whether I’ve underrated or overrated him. Better to be nettlesome than a non-entity. Now, I’m paying attention.

Credit Blockheads (2011), a suite of diminutive sculptures in Nolan’s back room, wherein Kendrick hollowed out chunks of wood and reconfigured them into a set of lumberyard totems. It’s a remarkably straightforward investigation of mass and void that benefits from stark means and deadpan comedy. The piece is this far from cute and that far from academic. Blockheads is a surprise—it’s not every post-minimalist who’ll admit to having a sense of humor.

It’s the works in the front gallery that generate amazement and head scratching. Kendrick does the same thing as with Blockheads, except he hollows out trees and subsequently places the interior pieces—re-configured puzzle-style—alongside the remaining shells. There’s a mathematical pleasure to be had in matching up the sections, in comparing hand-cut portions with their bark-laden exteriors.

Still, there’s something pedantic in presenting them as before-and-after installations, as if one or the other section was insufficiently engaging on its own merits. This is where Kendrick skirts kitsch—in putting the whys, wherefores and “now do you get it?” basis of his process on full display. Hey, Mel, you want to say, let us do some of the heavy lifting.

Predigesting art for easy consumption isn’t necessarily a turn-off, but it is condescending. Which is why the stately and solo Black Trunk (1995) is the most effective of Kendrick’s array of confused intentions and irresistible effects.

Originally published in the April 5, 2011 edition of City Arts.

© 2011 Mario Naves

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