Magazine article Artforum International

Roxy Paine

Magazine article Artforum International

Roxy Paine

Article excerpt

Distillation, 2010, the centerpiece of this show, belonged to Roxy Paine's "Dendroid" series, begun in 1998, which New Yorkers may best remember for Maelstrom, the elaborate work with which he filled the rooftop sculpture garden of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2009. In tune with its site above Central Park, that work was entirely arboreal, referring in all but its stainless steel substance to the forms and growth patterns of trees. Distillation, by contrast, began in James Cohan Gallery's entrance hall with a regular cylinder, a shape clearly coded as artificial. Moreover, this cylinder was not a Euclidean or sculptural pure form but was fitted out with hatches, pressure valves, and pipes for the entry and exit of fluids or gases--a tank, then, and as such a machine part, or a material link in a chemical plant's production line. One of those pipes, rising up from the tank's top, invited us to follow it into the gallery's main space, where it lost its straightness and symmetry, dividing and multiplying into an intricately unpredictable airborne network of crooked, uneven, gradually thinning branches. This was the tree metaphor of the " Dendroids" reasserting itself, but not entirely: In places the pipes ran into more stopcocks and valves, more industrial tanks and alembics, along with new appearances such as a large glass flask and a forked, antenna-like array that I'd guess might model a cooling system or condenser. Meanwhile a third layer of imagery also emerged here, of the animal body, for some of these tanks took the form of physical organs, most recognizably the kidneys. Finally the ever more attenuated net of vascular branches--in some places raw or painted red but mostly shiny stainless steel--twisted itself out of the far door of the gallery into the smaller room beyond, and then into the gallery's offices beyond that, where it finally came to an end in a metal point in midair.

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In fusing animal, vegetable, and mineral-cum-mechanical bodies like this, Distillation brought together long-standing themes of Paine's in a way both clear and packed. The artist has in fact made a number of functioning machines, including those of the "SCUMAK" series, which do just what their abbreviated title claims--they are sculpture makers--though in keeping with his corporeal concerns, the sculptures that come out of them are turdlike piles that you'd avoid if they were smaller and on the street. …

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