Renaissance Society becomes a room divided with Rebecca Warren

Interactive and engaging, Warren’s abstracted pieces are an argument concerning the definitions and limitations of sculpture.

By Morgan McCarty

Sculpture is an artistic medium that is very much concerned with itself. The Renaissance Society’s latest exhibition—a collection of new works by London-based sculptor Rebecca Warren—is a rumination on the effect and method of sculpture. Mainly done in clay, bronze, and steel, the pieces exhibit a vitrine-like quality by playing off each other’s presences within the space. Interactive and engaging, Warren’s abstracted pieces are an argument concerning the definitions and limitations of sculpture.

Filling the entirety of the gallery space, the pieces are split unevenly between its left and right sides. The left side is filled with numerous small, light, clay sculptures, while a few heavier, more exact steel pieces occupy the right. The two sides immediately ignite a conversation about the different forms of sculpture. And exactly in the middle of the exhibit space sits a small bronze cube on wheels.

Walking through the exhibit (regardless of which side one starts on), each cluster of sculptures takes on a particular motif in addition to its similar formal properties. The pieces on the left exhibit amorphous, feminine qualities with exacting attention paid to the use of color. The "Hills” series, “Rain,” and “Inland Empire” are mangled, awkwardly-colored clay forms that invite interactivity as they challenge the viewer to identify some sort of subject out of the abstraction. In the abstracted, cubic forms, one can see twisted glimpses of human figures in a diverse set of actions: clamoring to the top, falling, suspended.

Situated on the left side is “A Culture,” perhaps the most forthright form in the exhibit because of its shape, suggestive of the female form, and lack of color. The exaggerated anatomy and unique balance of the bulbous form is humorous, doting, and vulgar: an outlandishly feminine, carnival-esque form. In contrast, near this figure is the low-to-the-ground “Reclining Figure” made in steel and pompom. It lies, silently, in observation of the landscape before it, almost like it snuck away from its companions.

The right side of the gallery is dominated by angular steel constructions similar to “Reclining Figure.” The space is architecturally balanced, as “Vertical Composition III,” “Function V,” and “Large Male” triangulate the single clay form in the area, “The Other Brother Part Two.” Compared to the left side, the overall feeling of the space is less human, much more cold, and detached. Only a single pompom on each piece will bring a smile to your face. This tiny detail, in addition to the clay forms, seem to be the most accessible windows into Warren’s shrewd humor.

Warren’s steel pieces are more linear and less accessible, and the steel figures oppose the single unrefined figure encased in a Perspex case instead of inhabiting the space with it. One gets the feeling that this figure has been separated from its companions for its difference and ability to relate to the other side. The steel figures emanate traditionally masculine qualities of strength, rationale, ambition, and precision. They literally and figuratively balance differently than their counterparts.

Unable to stay separated, the two sides inevitably invade each other. For instance, united by the seemingly newly-minted, childlike “Cube” in the center of the space, “The Other Brother Part Two” and “A Culture” form a family, linking both sides of the gallery. In this way, it seems Warren is arguing for the progression of sculpture through marriage of disciplines. Rebecca Warren’s exhibit is highly self-referential in this way, as the motifs presented concern the very objects through which they are expressed.