Entering the Jack Hanley Gallery, which is currently exhibiting the Jeff William’s show “Bending Moment”, feels like stepping into the entrance hall of a natural history museum. The colossal sculpture erected in the center of the room produces a feeling of existential reverence, much like standing before a dinosaur’s mighty skeleton. Rather than the bone structure of a prehistoric mammal, the sculpture is the skeleton of the modern world itself. The portrayal of modernity stripped down to its rudimentary components, the sculpture consists of a steel frame that creates three registers, upon which various industrial materials seem to both construct the sculpture and be displayed by it. A curved metal helix, entangled rusty pipes, a reef rock, an aluminum honeycomb and a wineglass are all part of this elaborate work of art.
Although these materials are not the remains of an extinct form of life, Williams’ sculpture teaches a natural history, but of a different kind. In his work, Williams is exposing the bending moment he refers to in the title of the exhibition: the point where a physical energy forces matter to bow down to its strength. The ebb and flow of the tide punctures cavities in the reef rock over centuries and modern machinery crushes and fractures industrial materials. To create a wine glass, fire from a blowtorch blows glass until it cannot maintain its form and concaves. The warped substances remind us of time, of entropy, and of the physical powers applied on everything in our world, forcing us into our current state of existence.
This monument of entropy not only exposes time as duration, but also itself exists on an historical timeline: being a successor of art history’s own post-minimalist heritage. In the late sixties, American artist Robert Smithson created site-specific monuments of entropy, like “The Sand-Box Monument” (1967) and famous “Spiral Jetty” (1970), intended not to remind us of the past, but to remind us of the future, the inevitable disintegration destined to everything that exists. Williams brings this concept into the gallery, choosing to discuss manmade fossils, remnants of modern society: industrial waste reincarnated into art.
Other sculptures in the exhibition include a wired mesh ceiling mobile and another steel frame, both displaying raw masses of coral. A large metal board, lined and faded, is pierced by what looks like huge bullet-holes. A metal plate crushed between steel pipes stands like a statue of industrial commodity. Some of the sculptures are subject to change by temporal forces, occurring in real-time during the exhibition. Passing spectators may sway the wired mesh mobile, the light from the gallery space bounces off the wineglass and shines through the aluminum honeycomb with a celestial glow. This aspect also pays tribute to the post-minimalist tradition, in the manner of Eva Hesse’s web-like rope installations (now showing at The Whitney Museum) which are draped in a way that ultimately allows gravity and context to give it its final form.
The reincarnation of waste-turned-artifact discloses another aspect of change that matter undergoes: an object’s change in value over time. Usually, dissolution reduces the value of materials, as demonstrated by the rusted pipes and damaged steel. However, in this case, the misshaped materials, bent out of their original form, have surprisingly increased in value by creating art. This unpredictable turn of events is a reference the constant increase in knowledge achieved in modern society, forcing us to change our own set of values, bending our beliefs under the conceptual forces of science and technology.
This stellar exhibition is showing until December 20th at the Jack Hanley Gallery at 327 Broome Street.