by Matthew Metzger
Alice Aycock’s Super Twister at the University of Cincinnati Medical Science Building
Alice Aycock was a seminal presence in the New York avant-garde art scene in the 1970s, and has since continued to create work that simultaneously dissects and combines aspects of monumental sculpture, architecture, science and modern machinery. In stride with her mentors and peers Robert Morris, Robert Smithson and Gordon Matta-Clark, her early work explored our relationships with the land (in keeping with earth works) outside of the institutional art context of museums and galleries, often making the viewer’s participation integral to the meaning of the piece. This early work shed the traditional primacy of the art object, out of which formalism evolved and minimalism grew, in favor of an art with multiple, oscillating meanings and contexts. In its form and content the work is open, shape shifting, dynamic and always moving. This enlarged, almost holistic, approach is pleasingly difficult to place, sometimes in a rather horrifying or sublime way, much like twisters, vortexes, tornadoes and helixes – forms that she has been exploring in her most recent work.
Super Twister, located at the University of Cincinnati Medical Science Building, is one example of that recent work, along with Park Avenue Paper Chase, comprised of seven massive sculptures stretching down Park Avenue in New York City from 52nd to 66th Street (needless to say, this work, funded by her Berlin based dealer Galerie Thomas Schulte, is an unbelievably monumental endeavor). We are lucky to have her singular 19-foot tall sculpture, Super Twister. Ms. Aycock was in Cincinnati at the Medical Science building on April 10 to dedicate the sculpture and speak about it, which she did with clarity and eloquence.
Super Twister is made of countless pieces of curved aluminum sheet and bar, bent and welded or joined together to resemble a twister. Located on the patio of the Medical Science building it is obviously meant to represent, in part, the fury of intellectual activity that goes on inside that building. Ms. Aycock was forthcoming about her scientific influences, pointing out the ample room for contemporary art to draw from science, and vice versa, in hopes of breaking down the false dualities between the two “disciplines.” I don’t think I’m reaching in noticing as a subtext to her presentation that she feels that breaking down of barriers between art and other disciplines is a major trajectory in contemporary art.
Aycock’s recent work, Super Twister included, is part of that trajectory. It distills themes Aycock has been addressing since the beginning of her career. The progression has gone, simply, from the multiple meaning, often participatory work influenced by conceptual art, to a more monolithic, distilled character that combines rather than dissects the oscillating meanings and perspectives of the earlier work. For example, science is no longer represented by including text as components of her pieces (as in earlier work) but instead by distilling “scientific ideas” within the formal components of the work itself. In a conversation I had with Ms. Aycock, she noted her reluctance to categorize or think of her work in terms of minimalism, conceptualism or post-minimalism, and that refreshing reluctance to be categorized is in keeping with combing multiple ideas that previously might have been separated and categorized.
In any case, the sculpture is a serious presence. It is the type of sculpture that when placed in a public place helps us remember (or come to the realization) that the so called visual arts are integral to every other facet of culture, be it science (in this case), trade and commerce, design, food, or music (note the purposeful absence of politics from this short list). Super Twister carries a sober weight and seriousness that’s lacking in most of the public art we get (but not necessarily choose) in this city. Here’s to hoping we’ll get more like it.
Matthew Metzger is an artist, designer and furniture maker based in Cincinnati. His paintings are represented locally by Miller Gallery, and his furniture by Voltage, as well as other galleries and design showrooms nationally. His website is at metzgerfinearts.com.