Jane Manus Brings Reductivist Painting into Three Dimensions
Many things inspire Jane Manus: minimalism, constructivism, furniture design, pieces of even civic construction such as the Verrazano Bridge. Using cardboard maquettes and drawings as guides, Manus synthesizes these and other influences to create tough but graceful welded aluminum sculptures that play with the history and limits of formalism.
Her work takes many forms: furniture, outdoor installations, floor- and pedestal-mounted works, and even wall-mounted pieces that allude to the history of reductivist painting and shaped canvases. “A lot of pieces are site-specific,” says Manus, “and I think of every piece in three-dimensional terms, even wall pieces. I always think about furniture from every different angle as well.”
Works such as Double Jeopardy (2004), which is mounted on the wall, are reminiscent of the work of El Lissitzky, an early 20th-century Russian constructivist who blended mass production and graphic design with high art and confounded the division between two- and three-dimensional artworks. The sculpture is a highly formal experiment: a diptych composed of two aluminum forms painted blue. The two pieces mirror one another’s shape—a vertical band with a cube mounted on each, pointing outward. The cube on the left element is closed, absorbing light, and the right one open and reflective.
In floor-based sculptures like her Untitled and Openings (both 2014), torqued geometric forms bend at angles that awaken an awareness of space in the viewer. Their dimensions are reminiscent of Manus’s furniture, a portion of her practice that continues a tradition of sculptors who have also created functional objects, such as those by Donald Judd and Yves Klein. Works such as Intro and Will Power (both 2014) allude to usable forms, but with planes that often run counter to expectation—and appealingly so.
Manus typically favors bright colors, as in the aforementioned sculpture, or the bright yellow of PC (2012). But she is happy to disrupt this pattern with works such as the matte black Jennifer (2008), or the brushed metal exterior of Company (2014), in which the sculpture is reduced to the bare essentials of dimensional form. The rectangular planes and the bare surface are the artwork’s totality, to be considered in their spare beauty.