"Esther Kläs - PETER BLUM GALLERY"
By Margaret Ewing
Sublimely spare, the six sculptures and three drawings in Esther Kläs’s exhibition here transformed the gallery into a zone of tranquility, imbued with a simplicity and quietude that were a soothing balm for the relentless onslaught of information and experience that defines life in New York City. The airy, sensitively balanced configuration of elements highlighted the artist’s obsessions with space and surface while making evident her clear delight in materials. The installation of the objects—created from various metals, wood, concrete, and paper—seemed site-specific, the quality giving the presentation a subtle but undeniable repleteness.
Since garnering praise for her exhibitions of totemic sculptures at this gallery in 2011—and at New York’s MoMA PS1 the following year—Kläs has moved steadily in the direction of an ideal marriage between materiality and form with her work, which deftly combines hard with soft, heavy with light. Three of the sculptures included elements that looked like wiry bronze picture frames, which originated as drawings on the floor and were laid flat on the ground. The freehand line and cool metal made for a striking combination. One of the frames was included in Random Beauty, 2021, and was set at the foot of a diminutive, knee-high, tentlike structure built from swaths of white-cotton fabric stretched and glued between six bamboo rods. Nearby, Beginnings, 2021, juxtaposed a double stack of roughly cast concrete blocks elevated by wooden dowels with yet another frame, the surface of which alternated between high polish and a chocolaty patina.
Elsewhere in the show, the whimsical SEE YOU, 2021, was crafted from two shoe-high lengths of cardboard, loosely secured in a circle and a semicircle, respectively, by pieces of white string. With interiors painted an energetic red-orange, they felt featherlight and fleeting. Across the gallery, About, 2019–21, comprising a pair of larger elements, added a bit of monumentality to the show. One part was made from a U-shaped piece of heavily textured aluminum and suspended from the ceiling by a wire; it floated above a thin slab of concrete shaped like a bodyboard. Colored by washes of blue dye, the industrial materials appeared almost fragile. Camino, 2021, is an approximately six-foot-tall (and notably thin) slab of bronze. Resting lightly against the wall, it foregrounded process—the work’s rough-hewn surface is seductively adumbrated by a shadowy black veneer.
The show was bookended by two large-scale drawings, both from 2021, unframed and simply hung with pins. The material quality of the paper was as perceptible as that of the thickly applied oil stick and pastels—in rich tones of forest green, ruddy brown, and royal blue—used to mark it, making the works read more as three-dimensional objects than as two-dimensional ones. A simple vocabulary of spheres and lines revealed the artist’s desire to strike a balance between form and space in search of equilibrium.
The moves Kläs didn’t make in this exhibition were just as crucial as those that she did make. The artist is guided by a careful restraint, introducing only enough of her hand to allow the materials’ own properties to shine through. This approach—steeped in play, experimentation, curiosity, and thoughtfulness—is as delicate as it is forceful, delivering everything cleverly disguised as practically nothing.