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Minimally Effective

Paul Wallach Does More With Less

Detail of Paul Wallach's "Deep End"

By Mike Giuliano | Posted 3/27/2002

Strait(s): New Sculpture by Paul Wallach

C. Grimaldis Gallery through March 30

Although minimalism had its heyday in the 1970s, there are still some minimalist-minded sculptors out there. Paul Wallach, an American artist in his early 40s who lives in Paris, makes art within that spare tradition. A typically small-scale, wall-hung Wallach sculpture amounts to no more than a wedge of wood linked with either another chunk of wood or a slab of white cement. Some plaster is applied for a bit of a whitewash effect, and there are a few straight pencil lines drawn on and around the sculptural objects. At first glance, there isn't a whole lot to see.

Maybe that's why a fellow visitor to Wallach's Grimaldis Gallery show made her exit less than a minute after making her entrance. If you're not in such a hurry and can afford to linger, however, you'll notice that there's actually quite a bit to see in Wallach's work. True to the minimalist spirit of thinking about the gallery space itself as a white cube, he makes art that prompts you to reconsider the relationship between the sculpture and the space it occupies.

In an obvious sense, Wallach goes against the conventional expectations that paintings and drawings should hang on the wall and sculpture should stand on a pedestal or the floor. Most of his pieces are hung on walls and project at least a few inches from them; moreover, these sculptures are often "framed" by drawn or painted rectangles. Some pieces are wall-hung but wedged into corners; still others include both wall and floor components, the latter of which are more likely to lie flush with the floor rather than rise from it. Through such tactics, Wallach demolishes some of the conventional distinctions between media, as well the usual expectations about installation.

One could argue that he's a latecomer to decades-old art-world debates, but what ultimately matters is that Wallach's sculptures successfully interact with the gallery space. And because of the reductive and rigorous nature of his working method, Wallach's art-for-art's-sake sculptures prove a refreshing (if nostalgic) reminder that not every artist needs to make autobiographical or sociological pronouncements via busy mixed-media installations. There's still something to be said for the less-is-more approach.

Within that consistent philosophy running through the exhibit, there are variations that emphasize different aspects of how Wallach's materials relate to each other and to the spaces they occupy. In the wall-hung "Rules,"slats of wood--some painted white, some left bare; some with thin pencil lines, others patterned by the natural wood grain--are tightly joined together to form a standard painting-sized flat panel, with one missing slat exposing the gallery wall. The overall construction of this sculpture makes it resemble a minimalist painting.

Similarly, "Tensity" teases sculptural expectations, resting on the floor with no aspiration to rise up. Its steel bars form a rectangle only four inches high, bringing to mind minimalist Carl Andre's floor sculptures, which resembled metal rugs. Wallach's insertion of a small white plaster rectangle into the top surface of his steel rectangle adds a complicating if not quite decorative note that separates his work from the severest Andre-style austerity. In "Deep End," Wallach goes so far as to include lines and blocks of color painted directly on the wall, and to incorporate shadows thrown against the wall by the piece's winglike projections.

If Wallach clearly knows how to deploy his sculptural vocabulary, turning material paucity into intellectual plenty, there are some ways in which he'd benefit from bolder exploration. Unlike the minimalists whose quest for purity frequently translated into perfectly defined forms and highly refined craftsmanship, Wallach often favors deliberate roughness. It would be interesting to see more pieces in which he really pushes the envelope in terms of mating geometric precision and rough touches.

In addition, Wallach's small, restrained sculptures, while clearly true to his anti-theatrical outlook, perhaps would benefit from a tad more, well, theatricality. Intent as he is on questioning spatial relations, it would hardly be an aesthetic sin if his sculptures at least occasionally pushed further into the gallery air and cast longer shadows. Call me vulgar, but I want Wallach to really put on a show.

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