Carol Bove's seductive sculptures force us to confront our inner animal
Source:art and design Author:Adrian Searle Date: 2015-04-23 Size:
Using everything from 30-million-year-old trees to white loop the loops, Bove’s easy-on-the-eye artworks could easily be plopped down in a corporate plaza. But they’re so much more intriguing than that ...

  Noodle, 2015, by Carol Bove. Photograph: Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

A 30-million-year-old petrified tree trunk is bolted to a vertical steel I-beam. It’s a brown thing climbing another brown thing, standing on the wooden floor at David Zwirner gallery in Mayfair. Nearby, a white steel tube does a loop the loop. This is called Noodle. My eye sucks it up like spaghetti.

Carol Bove calls these immaculate white sculptures Glyphs, and they look a bit like a child’s first rounded attempts at joined-up writing, redone in fetish-finish fabricated steel. Their easy-on-the-eye abstraction also recalls the kind of upbeat art that gets plopped down in public squares and corporate plazas, as much a logo for art as art itself. They have all the meaning of an uncoiled spring, and could almost go anywhere. Bove is aware of this.

Circles, 2015, by Carol Bove.

  Circles, 2015, by Carol Bove. Photograph: EPW Studio/Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

The American artist currently has two shows in the UK. The other, at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, pairs Bove with the Venetian modernist architect, designer and artist Carlo Scarpa (1906-78). Juxtaposing Scarpa’s artworks and utilitarian design objects with her own art, and incorporating his work with hers, Bove both honours a predecessor and takes him on a journey. Bove’s is an art of constant returns and repetitions. Going from room to room, and gallery to gallery, I’m stricken by a growing sense of déjà vu. There’s another Glyph, and a second totemic tree-trunk and I-beam looming in Leeds.

One large concrete sculpture stands on the downstairs floor at Zwirner, while a different version hangs around in the Henry Moore Institute’s lobby, as though waiting to be let in. Each of them could easily take centre stage and fill a room on its own. Instead, Bove places them in such a way that downplays their monumentality, until we get up close. Both sculptures consist of two boxy concrete cuboids, one atop the other. The upper concrete section breaks up into smaller blocks, steps and elevations, like some kind of fantasy architecture hewn from a mountain. Walking round them, we’re surprised by groups of little bolted-together open brass cubes or cells, climbing around the concrete ledges. They seem to proliferate as we look.

She seems to be saying, I can be one kind of artist today, tomorrow another

Bove’s London show is like a group exhibition by a single artist. Rather than having a signature style, the different things she makes could be the products of quite dissimilar yet parallel artistic careers. She seems to be saying I can be one kind of artist today, tomorrow another. I can divide a room with a chain-link curtain that grids the view of whatever you see through it – the white gallery wall, other people, other artworks – or I can incorporate another artist’s work into my own arrangements.

Bove doesn’t seem to be method-acting different identities. Her works share an interest in sculptural syntax: this against this, that against that, the natural and organic alongside the made, borrowed things conjoined with her own. Her primary focus, as well as an abiding feel for form and placement, seems to be display: how things are presented to us, as offerings, gifts, rituals of animal attraction. Looking at art, we often forget that we are animals too.

Carol Bove

  Carol Bove’s Self Talk (2015). Photograph: Delfanne/Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

“Her sculpture requires no prior knowledge,” writes Andrea Phillips in one of the essays in the catalogue accompanying Bove’s show with Scarpa. But there is always prior knowledge, if only the mental baggage we carry with us. Bove’s subtle and arresting confrontations between different sorts of sculpture and objects become part of an ongoing conversation – we forget where it began, and who knows where it will end.

On a polished brass pedestal, topped by a small concrete slab, like a cushion on a stool, stands a welded armature. A delicate peacock feather, a little sea-shell, and some stuff I can’t identify sprout from the angled branches. You could imagine a fabulous jewel or swanky watch there, presented in some terrifyingly upmarket window display. Similar sculptures and plinths – one presenting a frangible lump of pale coral on a wooden block – are set among a number of Scarpa’s design artefacts in Leeds: an elegant 1950s painter’s easel, and a pair of his empty glass, metal and wood display vitrines, made for the Museum of Castelvecchio in Verona. Bringing her work together with Scarpa’s encourages us to walk, turn, gaze at one thing through another, and catch our own reflections. We constantly have to recalibrate our ways of looking.

Carol Bove's Coral Sculpture (2008), in the foreground, and Heraclitus (2014).

Carol Bove’s Coral Sculpture (2008), in the foreground, and Heraclitus (2014). Photograph: Private Collection, courtesy of Marc Jancou Contemporary, New York/Henry Moore Institute

Scarpa’s Asta, a 6m-long steel and bronze rod on which a burnished copper ovoid sits high above our heads, is clamped to a gigantic open steel framework by Bove. Is her contribution support, or sculpture in its own right? It can be both. Nearby, Scarpa’s 1968 steel and gold leaf sculpture Crescita is presented on a plinth designed by the American artist. Crescita is a marvel, a multifaceted construction of innumerable small cubes that catch the light as we walk around it. Bove isn’t so much appropriating Scarpa as restaging him, just as those steel I-beams present the ancient lumps of wood in a novel and interesting way. She invites us to look again.

Bove’s is a game of staging and placement. For her, making art and showing it are part of the same activity. We get tangled in her complications and seduced by the elegance and wit of what she does, her generosity of spirit. Somehow she keeps it all in concert, with the space it occupies, with history and taste. New art talks to the art that came before it. Sometimes it gets lucky, and talks to the future too. Some of it makes money, and some of it loses everything and ends up in a pauper’s unmarked grave. Most art doesn’t say much and we are the ones that end up doing all the talking, if only in our heads. Bove keeps the conversation going.

[Editor] 万兰

    Artintern