The drawings and sculptures of Barbara Chase-Riboud have long been admired and influential. A new show of her work, “One Million Kilometers of Silk,” on view at New York’s Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, surveys her work from the mid-60s to the late 2000s. Drawing on landscape, architecture, Modernism, and archaic imagery, Chase-Riboud’s work refers to many sources with a singular, beautiful voice.
In a series of drawings from the late 1990s, Chase-Riboud depicts imagined monuments to historical figures, contested spaces, and earlier artworks. Her 1996 drawing Monument to Man Ray’s The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse Philadelphia, Penn. U.S.A. is an engraving embellished with charcoal, pencil, and ink, dedicated to a 1920 sculpture (which was recreated in the early ’70s) by the Surrealist artist Man Ray. The drawing alludes to the bound form of Man Ray’s sculpture, but also takes on the totemic and frontal qualities of Chase-Riboud’s own work, which often includes silk textiles and cords, as well as geometric patterning. The flat frontal surface depicted in the work—shown as ropes—is evocative of mortuary and memorial imagery. It recalls the formal qualities of the sculptor El Anatsui, who makes large tapestries from discarded materials.
“Seeing my old sculptures is like seeing grown children,” the artist told USA Today last year. “They have their own histories, their own personas.” Her later sculptures have accumulated the sensuous, allusive qualities that she has developed during her career. La Musica Red Parkway (2007) takes a harp-like form, with a long, gracefully curving arm that extends from an angled base made of rotating and coalescing planes. That patinated bronze base is accentuated with bits of red silk, and long tangles of silk cord tumble from the extended arm, dangling to the ground below. This animated form is simultaneously as effervescent as music and as solid as geological mass. A wall or waterfall, Malcolm X #13 (2008) is another sculpture that juxtaposes the sensuality of white silk cord and black wool with a sturdy but fragmented body of charcoal-black bronze. The slim, nearly 15-foot-tall sculpture is archetypal, calling forth evocations of a man’s legacy, his body, and of the American landscape, a single white rope hanging down the sculpture’s face like a lynching rope down the trunk of a tree.
In Chase-Riboud’s work, hundreds of years of social and aesthetic history from multiple continents come in contact with one another. She monumentalizes the forgotten, the marginalized, and the overlooked, giving them a voice in her work and offering praise.
“One Million Kilometers of Silk” is on view at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, Oct. 31, 2014–Jan. 10, 2015.