Slusky in the Context of Modernist Tradition
From catalog essay in Joseph Slusky, Sculptural Survey, 1978-1998
The Oakland Museum of California sculpture court at City Center
by George Lloyd

In terms of art historical precedent Joseph Slusky is most directly beholden to the Cubist tradition. It was, of course, Picasso, who initiated the practice of making sculptures out of cut and welded pieces of metal. The Eiffel Tower is a modern icon precisely because it exemplifies in its painted metal structure the modernist values of lightness, linearity and transparency.
   Slusky's sculptures, like those of Picasso and David Smith before him, are chock-full of holes. For the true modernist, form is secondary to space. In the modernist idiom, the more substantial and massive forms of classical tradition were superseded and replaced by a sort of spatial continuum, made up of skeletal forms and lyric gestures.
   Like Picasso, Slusky is a scavenger who incorporates found as well as directly fashioned elements into his compositions. In a sculpture such as "A Lune, A Rune", these various components come together to form a quirky landscape , full of gesture and movement-running at sundry speed and in diverse patterns.
   The sculpture entitled "Sentinel" resembles, above all else, a robot. Just slightly larger than life, it looms over the viewer in its mock-menacing way like an oversized toy. The stability of its four-square stance is never doubted. The "sentinel" is a see-thru structure. Like a building, it is multi-leveled. It might also be taken for a rather larger piece of furniture which the viewer is somehow able to relate to without being over powered in terms of scale. To his credit, Slusky doesn't bully the spectator. One never has the sense that his pieces are blown-up versions of smaller models. Rather the scale of his work is invariably intimate and humane. Slusky's humor is also an important leavening factor, so that in spite of its somewhat formidable aspect and large size, the character of the "Sentinel", for example, is ultimately experienced as benign.
   Although it is not, perhaps, immediately obvious, one will, inevitably, become aware of the lurking presence of the human figure in Slusky's sculptures. In time, his individual pieces will come to resemble personages-each with its won peculiar aura. Oddly, but in true Cubist fashion, Slusky renders these figures in terms of still-life. Like Leger, who opined he would paint a woman as he would a pair of keys, Slusky has also made extensive use of industrial metaphor. He appropriates common objects and situates them strategically into his pieces. For example, a cut-off part of an oxyacetylene tank has been placed atop of "Croquet" where it occupies the place corresponding to the position of the heads in relation to the entire figure. From this point, the bottle-like shape levitates securely over the gesticulating and hyperactive lower mass of the figure. Here again, one enters a neo-Cubist crucible where the forms have been dematerialize and transformed into landscape.
   "Euclid on the Half Shell", which is the oldest work in the present exhibition, is reminiscent of Giacometti's surrealistic "Woman with Her Throat Cut". Both sculptures share a similar threatening and sinister aspect. The orientation of both pieces is likewise horizontal and close to the ground. "Euclid" is divided into two parts. The upper part, which looks something like a big trombone, has a downward trajectory along a diagonal axis which culminates in a large up-ended hook which, in a dramatic fashion, nearly touches the bottom section of the base-a maroon-colored configuration in the shape of a gigantic splash-or "SPLAATT!" as it would be called in comics jargon.
   Invariably, Slusky's sculptures strive upwards against gravitational pull. "Euclid", on the contrary, describes a fall-or in more exaggerated archetypal sense - a decent into death. The viewer is quickly reassured, however, when he realizes that he is, in Slusky's company, present at a kind of circus, and that the fearful illusion will last for only as long as the act will take to complete itself. Moreover, for the properly receptive viewer, the stunt is potentially revelatory and for the small price of some imaginative exertion, the psychic benefit of the myth is available.
   Another affinity that Slusky shares with the Cubist and Surrealist ancestors - and especially with Picasso-is his intense involvement with masquerade and fantasy. For Slusky's work there is no precedent in everyday experience. All has somehow been mix-matched and rearranged to resemble nothing like one has every seen before. It's a whole new ballgame, without even a scorecard to follow, because nothing is readily identifiable - just a world of odd hybrids and composites, of make-shift identities and transitional states. Everything is on the go and nothing is fixed or final. The irony of it all is that the most evanescent of fancies have been captured in such a hard and obdurate medium as steel.

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