What is immediately striking about Jack Slentz’s reductive, geometric sculptures is the surface: slick, shiny, striped—and reflective. “Blue Tube” is a sculpture formed by two, rectangular tubes, each over a foot wide and a couple of feet long, intersecting at the center of each. The separate planes of the rectangular tubes have been cut from retroreflective sheeting, the material used for road signs. Each plane is attached to an adjacent plane with twisted wire laced through holes in the sheeting. The smooth, cool, geometry of the work is similar to the sculptures of the seminal minimalist Donald Judd.
During a studio visit, Slentz picks up “Blue Tube” and it wiggles enough that one wonders, nervously, if it is going to fall apart. The curly-q’s of wire and the slivers of space between the planes are the things that make Slentz’s work not like Judd. In fact, it is as if the Juddian order (if we can call it that) has fallen apart, and Slentz has taken some wire and tried to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
The idea of taking Minimalism apart and putting it back together into something contemporary is an exciting idea, but is this what is going on in Slentz’s work? Maybe and no. More than any previous body of work, Slentz’s new sculptures, at Box Gallery through November 1, are concerned with perception--with making the viewer extremely aware of the autonomous object and the environment in which it exists. Installed on the floor, on pedestals, and on the walls, Slentz’s new works create an environment of sparkling, shifting jewels in yellow, red, blue and green. The surfaces visually echo the movement of light around the room, repeatedly reminding the viewer of her physical presence and visual perception.
In 1966, Robert Morris published a series of essays, “Notes on Sculpture”, in the journal Art Forum. He defended minimal art, suggesting that it provided a heightened awareness of the structure and function of human awareness. The following year, critic Michael Fried challenged the pretense of minimalism in his essay, “Art and Objecthood”; he wrote that the seeing and comprehending of art as nothing more than autonomous objects is impossible. The human mind looks for relationships and references, naturally and unconsciously.
Perhaps both ideas are true. Minimalist art, when it is successful, makes viewers aware of their awareness, but it is nearly impossible to stop there. Humans will relate shapes, colors, surfaces and even the scale of artworks to objects they recognize, often objects in their daily lives.
According to Slentz during an interview in his studio and also in his artist’s statement, he is inspired by relationships—the relationships between people and the internal relationship between conflicting emotions, like anger and kindness. He notices the shapes of objects (gears, man-hole covers, spears) and these forms, reduced, appear in this work. All of these sources are wonderful starting points, but are they (should they be) end-points as well? Slentz must decide. Presently, his ambivalence is showing. He sometimes titles his sculptures so that we return to the object (“Blue Tube”, “1 Into 8 Into 1”), but at other times his titles encourage associations outside of the object (“No U Turn”, “Shooting Star”). It is useful to experiment with both, but a conceptual commitment, one way or the other, will make Slentz’s point of view much clearer.
A craftsman gets ideas about how to use materials, and he makes new work based on the ideas the material permits. He values the workmanship much more highly than the idea his object communicates. The word “craft” comes form the German word “kraft”, which means ability. Slentz has developed significant ability--he can build a beautiful object from many materials (past work in wood and rubber is as visually and technically impressive as the current work). Slentz’s use of wire to hold the sculptures together, at several points along each edge, brings the viewer’s attention to the making--to the way the objects literally take shape.
An artist hunts for truth (or is against truth) and makes art that communicates his particular point of view about the truth of art, form, perception, society, human nature or mother-nature. His point of view—his truth—dictates all of his decisions about materials, process, scale, and technique. If his truth changes significantly, so will all of his formal decisions.
Which best describes Slentz? It’s a tough call. And the answer is not necessarily either/or. What is certain is that Slentz’s sculptures are sincere, wonderful gems. If Slentz can pinpoint, for himself, why these gems should exist in the world and what they have to say, in the next show we’ll be seeing diamonds.
October 3 – November 1, 2008
Opening reception: Friday, October 3, 5-7 pm
1611A Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe
This review was originally published in the October 3, 2008 issue of the Journal Santa Fe, in the column Object Lessons.