ArtSeen - Esther Kläs: Come again
By Barbara A. MacAdam
It’s as if, in this sensitive exhibition at Peter Blum, Esther Kläs’s sculptures, works on paper, and installations had themselves chosen their relationships with one another and set the stage for performing together.
Most surprising and compelling is a huge (74 by 118 inches) oil-stick-and-pastel work on paper titled Beses (2021), an abstract still life that opens the show, hanging opposite the entrance desk. It quickly draws us into the action and leads into a mystifying landscape of absences. Lines almost meet around the composition’s edges, while two irregular segments of spheres inhabit opposite sides of the paper—an overall effect that emphasizes interrupted visual expectations. The whole piece has a witty edge, presenting itself as a fundamentally unstill still life. A large dark ellipse holds the viewer’s eye, and a line or stick is poised diagonally across the paper. The stick operates like a director or dance master keeping the other elements, their performers, in check.
As if a sketch or study for Beses, one of a series of monotype and pencil on paper works hangs nearly invisibly in the large main room. It features thinly limned orange “S” shapes along with blue squiggly markings posed sensually as if to conjure the feeling of an idea about to emerge. In fact, the overriding impression here and throughout, is the power of suggestion. There’s an improbable magnetism to this eclectic gathering of unidentifiable forms and objects. Kläs’s works operate as the furniture of poetry. Quirky designs and rough materials mimic more finished ones, while found objects lend their inherent beauty to their carefully crafted neighbors. The ensemble is marked by a wide range of associations—not least an off-beat choreography, as implied in the title of the show, “Come Again.” We continually revise our perceptions as we navigate the show and explore the complex relations among the objects included.
Overall, a theatrical minimalism pervades this highly conceptual show, where unfathomable objects—which might, like Beginnings (2021), be composed of nothing more than two non-expressive stacked concrete forms on wood supports—pose with flat geometric bronze constructions laid out on the floor, suggesting Hopscotch courts or some other more enigmatic game setup. Considered together, they conjure the effect of blueprints, maps, and landscapes. The works are widely allusive while highly original. As we wend our way through the show, we are struck by a black patina bronze panel, whose shadings emerge as if alchemically á la Ad Reinhardt, compelling our gaze and enlivening the surface of the form. At the same time, the sculpture punctuates our movement through the room and subtly orchestrates the viewing experience.
There are pieces reminiscent of European conceptualists such as Georg Herold and Franz West, or of Bruce Nauman and his evocations of the body, as well as suggestions of playful games and fairy tales and dreams. Random Beauty (2021), for example, features a small gatelike sculpture with rungs reminiscent of horse jumping and child’s play. Other works carry less immediate and nostalgic connotations. Nearby is a rather ominous looking “sling” shape suspended from the ceiling over a mottled concrete tray, evoking a sled awaiting its passenger—or victim. Called About (2019-2021), the aluminum and concrete work is a kind of tease: it seems to demand explanation, but makes no effort to do so. At every turn, Kläs generously indulges her viewers in a world of free associations and endless play.
The entire show and its components are staged in a way that suggests theatrical props, the residue of a plotted choreography encountered post-performance. The figures are absent, but Kläs provides everything we need to imagine them.