New YorkStage Fright
Curated by Rachel Harrison
If one day during a figure skating competition some Peggy Fleming of the time executes her program in the frozen crater and if we, the spectators, amazed by her wonderful and frivolous pirouettes, are surprised by a sudden eruption of lava and become petrified forever, like the inhabitants of Pompeii, then the triumph of the moment and of the force of transition will be complete. And such a fleeting moment and such a transitory instant are the only symbol of our earthly passage.
Guided by a desire to illuminate and to inspire reflection on the sculptural form, Dominique Lévy of LGDR invited Rachel Harrison to curate a presentation of 20th-century sculpture. The exhibition that emerged presents a group of works that consider modernism’s devotion to that most fundamental of subjects: the human figure.
Stage Fright features works by Louise Bourgeois, Constantin Brâncuși, Marcel Duchamp, Marisol Escobar, Alberto Giacometti, Yves Klein, and Alina Szapocznikow that represent the body in extremis—shown ruptured in pieces or pared down to the essentials—in surrogates that stand for the whole. A stack of bronze discs forms an unequivocally genital tower that lists to one side; a bronze bust’s scored features individuate a polychrome face the size of a fist. Taken together, the works on view incarnate various conceptions of personhood as routed through objects, whether rendered with aching specificity, as in the clefts and folds of Szapocznikow’s plaster Belly, or invoked as a generic type, as in the leather panes of Duchamp’s widow/window or Marisol’s totemic couple The Blacks, named for a popular play by Jean Genet that ran off-Broadway the year the work was made.
A mid-century polymath (playwright, model, novelist, activist, poet) whose own work explored the vulnerabilities of embodiment, Genet visited Giacometti’s studio and published an account of the sculptor’s abstracted figuration:
Tonight, as I write this note, I am less convinced by what he said to me, for I do not know how he would model the legs. Or rather the rest of the body, for in such a sculpture, each organ or member is at that point of prolongation of all the others in order to form the indissoluble individual, so that it loses even its name. ‘This’ arm cannot be imagined without the body that continues it and signifies it to the extreme (the body being the prolongation of the arm), and yet I know no arm more intensely, more expressly arm than that one.
Installation view of Stage Fright at LGDR 909 Madison, New York, April 7 - June 18, 2022