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Edward Albee assembles nine American sculptors at Anderson Gallery for an exhibition that explores loss.

Running on Empty

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The essential parable of Anderson Gallery's "From Idea to Matter: Nine American Sculptors," an exhibition curated by playwright Edward Albee, is introduced in Gallery 1 with Paul Whiting's roughly assembled constructions of human-scale furnishings made from building board in the manner of props. Two of these three forms indicate makeshift podiums or pulpits, while the third is more latent and covert, given over to the floor. All three testify to the abandonment of something that was once central to the drama. This sense of absenteeism established at the outset of the visit to this show is a palpable one, and it is a mood that will follow the viewer throughout the gallery. Meanwhile, John Duff's three objects assemble in the next room in a Holy Trinity of geometry. His outlined steel circle, square and triangle convert and contort like mathematical dervishes into various attributes and abilities. They are actually the only living, moving things among the group of very still objects to be encountered as one climbs the stairs to the rest of the show. On the second floor, in Gallery 3, is Barry Goldberg's vulnerable, heart-arresting sculpture. He builds small monuments to the imaginary life of desire. His fragile steel towers support empty containers that might seem to be filled with the memory of wet weight and volume, the missing evidence of plenty. Walking into this installation and thus invading these objects' echoing nuances of bleached color and luminosity set out on a white tile floor is like disturbing a private requiem. David Fulton's confined installation in Gallery 4 is a small pantry full of similar terms such as Goldberg sets up. His grouping, however, commodifies the idea of loss, utilizing the paper shopping bag as a motif. "Untitled (Neighborhood), 1-5" describes the gridded layout of suburban development with the houses referenced as Plexiglas rectangles that protect the empty (fiberglass) paper bags. It indicates, perhaps, that people who live in glass houses should not cast stones, but those who build with plastic may feel safe in their realm. In calling this piece a fable, which offers a caution somewhere between the Bible and "The Three Little Pigs," I hope not to undermine its elegance and poetry. However, it does tweak those associations that give it a melancholy humor and a golden rule. Jonathan Thomas' ceremonial congregation of totemic masks are painted black so that they seem both charred and voided, somehow obliterated of a specific intention. They stand not in an unspecified mystical order, but in mathematical arrangement like chess pieces, and are arranged according to height like a class picture. Across from them is John Beech's series of implausible implements that lack some small practical element, or otherwise foil their user. Both artists' works propose conditions that indicate a loss of necessary aptitude from the world they exist to serve. Mia Westerlund Roosen's resined wall curtain, "Pulse," David McDonald's lilliputian floor installation of puttied wooden remnants and Richard Nonas' minimally altered wooden plaques comprise the remainder of this eloquent exhibition which is so beautifully installed. The tension and fury of some of Albee's most renowned dramas have not been interjected into this survey of sculpture. But the exhibition provides an experience that will bristle the fine hair on the arms like stepping out to a cold day, unwrapped. The nine sculptors who comprise Albee's show share a mutuality for a theme explored earlier this year in the "Vanitas," exhibition at the Virginia Museum — an affinity for the memento mori, or souvenir of loss. It is an intellectual challenge to describe loss in contemporary terms when our landscape of symbolism is not defined by the wilting bloom and the worm, but by landfills, ghettos and social disengagements. The assignment is in part to refine the incomplete and the imperfect as completely and perfectly as one can; to acknowledge absence as a freedom of the imagination to understand and repair. Albee and his artists give us the gift of such matters.

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