On ViewSlag & RX Galleries
May 20–June 25, 2022
The French American artist Alain Kirili (1946–2021) was born in Paris but moved permanently to New York by the 1970s with his wife, the artist Ariane Lopez-Huici. Kirili was inspired by artists of the American Abstract Expressionist generation and the concentration of ambitious artists in New York City, but found himself diverging from the protocols of conceptual and minimalist art that emerged later. His desire was to retain sensuality and expression while discovering new ways to work with traditional sculptural methods. His life long passion for experimental jazz never waned and he maintained a continuous dialog with many of its most outstanding musicians.
This commemorative exhibition comprises three different groups of work and four additional individual pieces. The first group presented is Commandment XVI (1991). The eleven individual pieces are made of forged iron and stand between nineteen and twenty-nine inches, relatively low in height from the floor, placed in a close configuration and viewed primarily from above. Each piece rises from the floor as a rectangular column that then supports a rectangular plane on which is a letter, or glyph like form. They are diminutive and monumental, geometric and organic: the glyph itself shaped by the challenge and involvement demanded in metal forging, a process Kirili relished for its potential to form through physical engagement and its subsequent, sensual trace, after the literal exchange of energy between artist and material. Kirili shared an intense interest in ancient sacred texts with his friends and colleagues, Roland Barthes, Philippe Sollers, and Julia Kristeva. For Commandment XVI, Hebrew letters are a source for the shape of each glyph. Sollers and Kristeva have both contributed important essays on Kirili’s work.
Moving through the gallery, one encounters five cast bronzes that are ninety-six inches tall. These are Kirili’s Totems from 2005. Each bronze bares the traces of rapid manipulations from the artist’s hand, leaving an irregular surface—the gesture of each movement of fingers grasping, squeezing, and variously marking—now part of, as Kirili put it, the “scarred surface” of “broken and unfinished touch.” This is made possible by using the lost wax process whereby the sculptural form is first made in wax, which is malleable, and then cast, using poured bronze. The metal replaces the wax. Kirili’s casts were made in Paris, in the Susse Fondeur where casts were made for, among others, Alberto Giacometti. The “Totems” pulse visually as the undulating profiles widen and narrow and the roughness of surface and directness of handling leave vitality evident. Verticality, articulated with swiftness and lightness, characterize these engaging and impressive sculptural objects. The Totems recall works of two abstract artists that Kirili much admired, David Smith and Barnett Newman, and are also connected in method and form to the works of Giacometti. The Totems were first presented in the gardens of the Palais Royal in 2005, where their impact would have been quite different. Here, the effect is compressed as the sculptures occupy space in such a way that experiencing them in close proximity enhances an intimacy with the particular energy they possess as we move past them compared with the out of doors, an expansive space of fluctuating light in a public, social, open space.
The third group of sculptures, made with forged iron and painted silver, Open Form (2001–03), are placed outside in a courtyard space. The eight sculptures are between thirty-three and fifty inches in height. The frontal, planar shapes perforated with several apertures have curving fluid profiles that indent around mid-height. The tone of the color is subject to changes of natural light, and shadow so that this motion and fluidity is further emphasized. The Open Form of the title refers to the structure of improvised musical compositions typical of free jazz pieces, and the individual Open Form sculptures are variations: explorations that continued from one to the other as possibilities were discovered. Also included in this exhibition are four smaller works, three in forged iron and one in forged brass and iron, that have all the complexity and clarity of the larger sculptures. Kirili was committed to a spiritual art of physical presence, as he said himself, “I am reacting against a new form of repression, a world of excessive virtuality.”