3.9.18 — Sculpture as Site

Gonzalo Fonseca treats sculpture not as an object only, but as a site also. Vertical slabs break for windows, niches, and doors like houses, churches, or public buildings. Tabletops display the ruins of entire cities, if not entire civilizations. Works on paper sometimes read as maps. One can hope to piece out their components, in towers and arenas. One can hope, too, to imagine what remains hidden and what has been lost.

Of course, they also have a site, at the Noguchi Museum through March 11, and Fonseca could count on Isamu Noguchi as a mentor and a friend. Born in 1922, in Uruguay, he was more than thirteen years the younger of the two, but the show brings them closer together than ever. Both lived and worked in New York while traveling overseas—in Fonseca’s case to Italy, where he died in 1997. There he sought the marble for his largest work. A few examples, in an entrance hall, frame a visit to both artists. A retrospective continues upstairs, and one could mistake much of it for Noguchi’s own.

They share their materials, in marble and stone—whether finely polished or coarse, fragmented, and raw. They share Modernism’s formal language with something more allusive. They share, too, the duality of horizontal surfaces and rising verticals, with the pedestal a more than equal partner in the work. When I spoke of a tabletop, I should have said a table. Fonseca still creates objects after all. He is also, as Noguchi is not, obsessed with representation.

He could well be in search of a site—and only partly because his points of reference lie in ruins. They lay bare staircases and entryways, as points on the way to somewhere else. The windows could stand for windows onto the soul. Other imagery includes ladders and eggs, presumably unhatched. Horizontal planes and bulky supports also run to the deck and hulls of ships, with destination unknown. The sense of time already past lies over everything, often as not as madness. One head, to judge by the title, belongs to the emperor Nero.

Fonseca’s reputation, too, needs some excavation. Modernism, not least that of Noguchi, just does not have much time for the trappings of profundity. Still, maybe neither at heart does Fonseca. Ancient Rome for him had its theaters, but only as show. Imagery runs to fingers in a box and to enlarged feet, but at least partly as farce. They could be less serious than they appear.

His roots lie in painting, which may explain the maroon that occasionally competes with the white marble and battered gray of limestone. And painting here means Surrealism. A pendulum, one of his favorite devices, may suggest a site’s transience, ticking off the moments, but also a full moon. The repeated cavities also suggest an empty house. Ink often adds a finishing touch, to spell out the supposed subject matter. Remember, though, that fingers might create and feet might support a sculpture.

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