Art in America

Melissa McGill at CRG Gallery
 — By Bill Arning


Melissa McGill has spent the last few years attempting to materialize the invisible, mak­ing something tangible out of negative spaces, shadows and spills. Last year, in a gorgeous show at Boesky & Callery’s project room, she described in blown black glass the shapes of the spaces around and with­in Canova’s Three Graces, which she had studied through an elaborate quasi-scientific photographic analysis. As the inky but glistening forms hov­ered in space, the confusion between what was negative and what was positive space, what was absence and what was presence, provoked a more pro­found experience than I have had with Rachel Whiteread’s transformations of voids, which are somewhat similar in concept, though not in form.

McGill’s recent installation at CRG, titled “Myths, Inflections and Innuendoes,” appears at first glance to be a group of five curva­ceous modernist glass sculptures on pedestals silhouetted against the walls. But things are not what they seem. Each of the five sculp­tures physically invades both the surface of the wall and the top of its pedestal. Each pedestal is a different size. A layer of clear glass over a gray glass center, which lends the works a subtle pearliness, lets you see just a bit into the cavities. While debates about the pedestal as an anachronism are now them­selves old-hat, McGill calls attention to the pedestals as trans­lators and meeting points between walls and floor, between sculpture and architecture. 

McGill derives her sculptural elements from ink blob drawings, some of which were reproduced on the exhibition’s flyer. Extrapolating from the most seductive of her made-by-chance two-dimensional forms, she reimagined them as three-dimensional shapes. She then worked with glassblowers at Brooklyn’s UrbanGlass to transfigure them into liquiformed lumps, which, while amorphous and droopy, are strangely animated.

In fact, they appear to have become tired of sitting still on their pedestals and have decided to escape en masse by oozing into the gallery walls, moving in a slug-like motion reminiscent of “The Blob” of Cold War horror movie fame. Or an equally plausible nar­rative would have them seeping from the walls, like the toxic sludge in the film Brazil. Whether coming or going, the works seem to obey their own unique, dream-based logic. The idea of pedestal sculptures that come and go at will reminds me of an old New Yorker cartoon showing quitting time at the museum, with mythic marble figures putting on their hats and leaving with the guards and secretaries.

Like 3-D Rorschach tests—as seems appropriate, given their ink-blot sources—the ambiguous glass forms compel viewers to free associate. Despite chance elements and asymmetries, this spare installation was wildly seductive and thoroughly effective in engaging the negative spaces and expansive white walls of the gallery.