Willard Boepple at Salander-O’Reilly Galleries

Willard Boepple, Jura from the Temple series (2004), poplar, 23″ x 12″ x 15″

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Room (2000), the centerpiece of Willard Boepple’s exhibition of recent sculpture at the Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, is a curious piece of work. It makes no bones about its architectural reference–and not just because of the title. Scale is a factor: Room is almost as big as a room, and viewers are welcome to enter it.

Made from aluminum, its abraded surfaces sparkling with reflected light, the sculpture is reminiscent of two-by-fours complete with “windows.” The squarish structure is topped off by diagonal struts, like a roof. (Room could well be based on a child’s drawing of a house; in my notes, I kept referring to it as Home.) Inside are shelves of varying thickness and size, deftly calibrated to create jutting, propulsive relationships. Imagine an homage to Mondrian by a less puritanical Donald Judd and you’ll have an idea of the peculiar nature of Mr. Boepple’s achievement.

Anyone with a keen interest in sculpture should make a priority of seeing Room. Having said that, I found the three tabletop pieces surrounding it (all titled Temple) more intriguing and  approachable. Constructed from thick planks of poplar and painted black, green and reddish-brown, respectively, they offer a less literal allusion to architecture.

At first glance, each of the blunt, box-like constructions seems impenetrable; narrow, shifting apertures allow the eye partial access to their interiors. Peering in, we get a sense of their intricacies but never a firm grip of the whole: The mystery of the Temple remains intact. The mutability of space, Mr. Boepple’s subject, is here endowed with a solemn, though not unplayful, demeanor. When not working with the museum in mind–which is, I think the case with the Temple pieces–Mr. Boepple is liberated by ambition rather than confined by it. So honor Room as the masterwork, but relish the rest as evidence of this sculptor’s enigmatic, eccentric and undeniable gift.

© 2004 Mario Naves

A version of the article was originally published in the August 2, 2004 edition of The New York Observer.

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