Peter Blake Gallery
Apr 13, 2019 6:25PM

Stephanie Bachiero, 'Transformation,' 2017, Engineered Aerospace Composite, 72 H x 86 W x 58 D inches, Edition 2/8, Peter Blake Gallery

In 1926, Marcel Duchamp escorted crates of sculptures by Constantin Brancusi to New York for exhibition. Customs inspectors who opened the crates found one work in particular too abstract, too clean in fabrication, to qualify as art: one of Brancusi’s seminal bronzes, Bird in Space. They labeled it a “kitchen utensil” and imposed the standard tariff for manufactured metals. The lawsuit that followed, Brancusi v. United States,i would overturn prior cases holding that sculp- tures qualified as such only if they were chiseled, carved, and/or imitated natural objects. The court accepted photogra- pher and dealer Edward Steichen’s testimony that Brancusi’s work “does not look like a bird, but I feel that it is a bird.” ii

Like Brancusi, Stephanie Bachiero conjures concepts, physical and emotional sensations, and metaphors by reducing them to sculptural forms. Her work evokes more recent artists—Richard Serra, Ken Price, Isamu Noguchi, and especially the Cali- fornia minimalists loosely grouped under “light and space”—yet also reinvigorates the perennial concerns of Brancusi and his forebears. Brancusi’s vision was expansive. Though best known for works in plaster, bronze, and marble, his earlier works demonstrate the influence of folklore and use traditional materials and ancient techniques, direct carving especially. His ultimate aim was to bring forward the essential qualities of his materials. Likewise, as Bachiero puts it and as her work proves, her long- standing engagement with porcelain embodies “conversations with [material] as it moves.” Her current exhibition “Fierce and Fragile” is both an exemplary instance of her manipulation of clay as well as a bold step forward into new materials and scale.

Installation View (From Left): Stephanie Bachiero, Helix, 2017, Engineered Aerospace Composite, Automotive Lacquer, 24 H x 22 W x 22 D inches, Edition 4/8; Hysteresis, 2017, Copper, 9.5 x 6 x 7.5 inches, Edition 2/8; Pinnacle, 2017, Engineered Aerospace Composite, Automotive Lacquer, 36 H x 42 W x 37 D inches, Edition 1/8; and Transformation, 2017, Engineered Aerospace Composite, Automotive Lacquer, 72 H x 86 W x 58 D inches, Edition 2/8, Peter Blake Gallery

“Fierce and Fragile” includes works from 2014 to the present, all of them variations on Bachiero’s signature motif: a sin- gle band or plank pulled and torqued. Like many artists—Donald Judd, John McCracken, Carol Bove—she returns to the same subject again and again, creating new problems through slight variation to draw out new possibilities. With rare exception each volume rises vertically, twists, curves, and returns to the floor or support, yet within this framework Bachiero evokes diverse emotions and associations. For example, the small stainless steel Sustained, 2017, leans slight- ly askew like ballet dancers in a pas de deux, while the similarly scaled porcelain Apex, 2016, reflects the exertion and yearning for achievement of its title. Each work yields more the longer one looks; it’s clear that Bachiero’s process in- volves a fundamental gesture of lifting—a rare sculptural move in an era in which most sculpture suggests placing, stack- ing, breaking, appropriation, and/or bricolage—yet beyond this the variety of curves and volumes remains mysterious.

Installation View (From Left): Stephanie Bachiero, Contortion, 2016, Porcelain, 8 x 9 x 9 inches; Vortex, 2016, 9.5 x 9.5 x 8.5 inches, Tortuous, 2017, Porcelain, 8.5 x 9 x 9 inches; Pinnacle, 2017, Engineered Aerospace Composite, Automotive Lacquer, 36 H x 42 W x 37 D inches, Edition 1/8; and Serpentine, 2017, Porcelain, 8.5 x 10 x 5.5 inches, Peter Blake Gallery

Installation View (From Left): Hysteresis, 2017, Copper, 9.5 x 6 x 7.5 inches, Edition 2/8; Sustained, 2017, Stainless Steel, 10 x 9 x 13 inches, Edition 3/8; and Catenary, 2017, Bronze, 8.5 x 6.5 x 8 inches, Edition 3/8, Peter Blake Gallery

One cannot evoke the “plank” in sculpture, especially in Southern California, without acknowledging John McCracken, whose rigid, glossy monochrome planks leaning against walls have become icons of California minimalism. Yet where McCracken’s planks mostly remained rigid and emphasize a casual verticality, Bachiero embraces neither verticality nor horizontality but the natural cycle of rise and fall. Moreover, she seems unafraid to acknowledge that even some of the most apparently minimal sculp- ture is freighted with metaphor, spirituality, and emotion (a fact McCracken mostly left unacknowledged until late in his career).iii Push, 2018, one of the few works in which the ends of Bachiero’s planks do not both rest on the horizontal support, seems to explicitly address McCracken and these issues. A human-scale band leans from pedestal to wall, yet unlike McCracken’s planks its left center edge bends towards the room like a hip cocked back in effort. To paraphrase Stei- chen, it does not necessarily look like a push, but we feel that it is one. Though minimal and modern, Bachiero’s work does owe something to feminist critiques of the phallic verticality and mythic “objectivity” of modernist and early post-modernist sculpture. It is also curvy, sexy, and deceptively casual in a way that seems distinctively Californian.

“Fierce and Fragile” includes a number of recent works (including Push) that debut a move in Bachiero’s oeuvre to a scale much grander than anything she has presented in the past. Bachiero makes smaller clay maquettes that are then scanned and 3D-rendered. The renderings are machine-translated into high-density foam that serves as base for a cast- ing mold. An aerospace-grade composite is poured into the mold to create large, editioned sculptures that are then painted in various shades and finishes. These works are revelatory in two senses. First, that Bachiero’s sensibility func- tions at a much larger scale is testament to her elegant sense of proportion, balance, and weight. Second, these works magnify Bachiero’s talent as a colorist. Compare, for example, the matte white of Pinnacle, 2017 and the reflective black of Transformation (Glossy Black), 2018. It is no small feat for an artist to make a drastic jump in scale and process and have their work succeed as splendidly as these.

Composition, form, color, finish: these are the marks of a painter. Bachiero’s most recent sculptures bear all these marks, suggesting monochrome paintings blown out in three dimensions, or the single twist of a brush in front of our eyes. They manifest classic sculptural values via cutting-edge technology with painterly virtue. Like Bran- cusi’s Bird in Space, they bring long-established sculptural concerns into a present obsessed with the future.

— Grant Wahlquist, February 2019

i. 54 Treas. Dec. 428 (Cust. Ct. 1928).

ii. For more on Brancusi v. United States, see Stéphanie Giry, “An Odd Bird,” Legal Affairs, Sept./Oct. 2002.

iii. For more on the metaphoric, personal dimensions of McCracken’s planks, see Francis Colpitt, “Between Two Worlds: John McCracken,” Art in America, Apr. 18, 2011.

Stephanie Bachiero's solo exhibtition was on view at Peter Blake Gallery, Laguna Beach, California, from January 15th to March 2nd, 2019.

Peter Blake Gallery