Art in America

Review of Exhibitions – New York

Kenneth Snelson at Marlborough and Laurence Miller

by Edward Leffingwell

Kenneth Snelson’s sculptures are articulated by the artist in a system he calls “tensegrity,” a structural balance of webs of steel cables and polished metal cylinders of various modest diameters. The 30 foot-high Dragon (2000-03) was installed on Marlborough’s terrace, tethered to and springing forth at a 45 degree angle from the not inconsiderable weight of a pad of steel plates. Each unit of its negotiated geometry is based on two opposed stainless-steel cylinders drawn diagonally erect by two thick and equally opposed cables. The cables are not introduced into the armature through the cylinders, but are fixed at the ends, drawn taut as though ratcheted into place, so that the cabling serves as musculature and the cylinders as bones, held together and lifted up in a defiant, graceful dance of tension and compression. Free of welded parts, Snelson’s towering dragon rises on its haunches and arches the length of its neck, a marvel of equilibrium and thrust.

Across the gallery floor, the 72 foot length of Sleeping Dragon (2002-03; aluminum and stainless steel) describes a lightness of being and available volume. It insinuates itself into, along and through the generous gallery space, forming triangles of tubing and cable in air. The angles appear to shift in response to the movement of the viewer around the supine sculpture. Like the two Dragons, the acrobatic Rainbow Arch (2001) appears to distribute its tension at equal points along its height and length (7 and 12 feet, respectively). Smaller, consequently lighter works were also on view.

The seductive bamboo cube of Space Frame Weave, Octa Form (2002) points to the history of architecture and the ingenious, sturdy bamboo scaffolding used by resourceful Third World builders. Suspended by one corner rather than from the center of one of its outer planes, its members held rigid by plastic ties, the sculpture moves slowly in the air like an encased many pointed Moravian star, elegant in the simplicity of its organic materials. In a simultaneous exhibition of 360 degree panoramic photographs at Laurence Miller Gallery, Snelson, once a cinematographer, presented an elegant survey of urban landscapes and gardens. Among them, Bamboo Grove, Kyoto (1989) offers a structural link to the bamboo sculpture at Marlborough. Bare for much of their length, several stalks seem to bend in the wind in the upper range of the view, giving a sense of the energy of the moment, while others rest where they’ve been felled, or balance along their length, supported by the upright members.

As though to reify the longstanding connection between photography and his essentially abstract, architectonic sculpture, Snelson included a 1980 black-and-white print of the Brooklyn Bridge, including the bridges beyond, and numerous photos that include the bridges of Paris. A real enjoyment of process and structure suffuses both endeavors.