Magazine article Artforum International

Huma Bhabha: STEPHEN FRIEDMAN GALLERY

Magazine article Artforum International

Huma Bhabha: STEPHEN FRIEDMAN GALLERY

Article excerpt

Among the paradoxes in Huma Bhabha's extraordinary sculpture is that although it feels fully in sync with our times--politically uncertain, historically self-conscious, formally experimental--the work transmits great timelessness. The three untitled, totemlike figures, 2010, that were in the front room at Stephen Friedman Gallery seem as ancient as anything ever erected on Easter Island. Solid, stony presences with roughly pitted surfaces that suggest hours of laborious masonwork, these partially blackened idols arc mostly made of cork, pointing to an unexpected fragility: Were these monoliths to tip over, they would crumble. Bhabha's art is rife with such paradoxes. She obviously works with extreme care, declaring her sculptures finished only when every detail is resolved with precision, bur her attentivencss is at odds with the material instability of the final product. Nothing feels rushed or thoughtless, yet her sculptures--beaten, burned, frail--nonetheless feel doomed.

Bumps in the Road, 2008, which dominated the second gallery, is an unforgettable work. Occupying a raised, rough metal plinth, like a low table, are two contrasting figures--or is it a single bizarre body, violently chopped in two? The left seems all head, the right all legs. The legs are unadorned wooden planks, positioned to mimic a Giacomettilike striding man, sliding on two metal beams like long ice skates--no bumps in the road for this skating, headless figure, then. On more shaky ground is the mesmerizing second character, whose grossly enlarged head is painstakingly worked in brown papiermache, though it looks like it's made from delicately wrought spitballs. The surface is cracking up, exposing pitiful bits of chicken wire that strain to hold it together--like Pangaea slowly breaking up on this odd, potato-like planet. Close inspection reveals that this unearthly head carries beneath it two shapeless arms and grotesquely spindly legs; phallic, pipelike eyes protrude invasively while sagging ears extend about a foot in length. …

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