Peter Shelton’s “holecan,” among other things

Peter Shelton, Selected Sculpture from 1975 to 2011, installation view at LA Louver

When Peter Shelton pointed across the gallery to holecan (1980), because of its shape and the feeling that it gave me of age, of existing as a relic from a former time, my mind flashed to an illustration from Lars Nitve and Helle Crenzien’s Sunshine & Noir that I have always loved – of Nancy Rubins’ Hot Water Heaters, 1995. There are wonderful shadows in this photograph that give Rubins’ sculpture a really dark presence and the author’s emphasis on noir gave the then recent work of art a vintage feeling.

page 118, Sunshine & Noir, Lars Nitve, Helle Crenzien, UCLA Hammer Museum exhibition 1998

This memory was not only shape-focused, also it occurred to the that these two early pieces by makers of large-scale body implicating sculptures contain the seeds for much subsequent work in each of the artist’s careers.

Shelton’s human-size can shaped sculpture is made of iron sheets and is pierced with holes to locate the eyes, nose, ears, mouths and other openings in the bodies of the artist’s closest relatives. “I asked my aunties, my grandmother, my parents, all my relatives to measure the space between their eyes and the distance from the floor. I asked that they measure similarly for each orifice, and then I made holes in my sculpture to match.”

In fact, Shelton emphasized skin in his comments, the skin of his sculptures and how they contain mass and how this effect is one way that sculpture allows us to imagine or become aware of our physical presence in space.

It’s funny that I mostly think of mass when I think of sculpture. Chunks of matter with weight, I take this for granted. A solid outline implies a thing. When I look at this early work of Shelton’s and consider only the skin, this delimiting factor of mass rather than the possibility of weight, I understand my romance with this picture of Rubins’ Hot Water Heaters. The catalog’s image of Rubins’ sculpture associates so directly to my body in a way that more heroically scaled sculptures rarely do for me. I can fit inside those water heaters, they are hollow.

I wonder if shape, which is defined by the surface that contains or outlines it, is a signifier? I mean in the way that words aren’t things, but they stand for things when we communicate. What if shape only exists because we need it to, so we can orient ourselves. I mean our selves. I’ll go out on a limb and say our souls.

But back to Peter Shelton and the exhibition at Louver for a moment. In the upstairs gallery with holecan are two of Shelton’s familiar torus pieces. When I got inside of holecan and looked through its star-like apertures I was able to place myself in the biographies of Shelton’s family members – weirdly, by entering the container, I was able to go outside myself. The torus is a similar multi-dimensional space. The inside of the doughnut shape travels seamlessly to the outside and it becomes a fat Moebius strip.

Vintage photo of "holecan" installation, possibly at Chapman College for Architectural Sculpture, LAICA, 1980

Peter Shelton, godshole, 2003 mixed media 60 x 30 x 60 in (142.2 x 185.4 x 114.3 cm)

Shelton does get to weight, and quite nicely, too. Slipper #24, which is downstairs, has a metal cable hanging from the ceiling from which a heavy-feeling iron disc is suspended, just missing the floor. Super sweet. (Note that Slipper #24 is a sixty disc installation, of which two are presented in the current exhibition.) You’ll notice that I remembered to qualify this object as ‘heavy feeling’ because… how do we really know? I mean with anything. Iron always looks heavy – sculptors rely on this response in an audience. Tricky.

I expected to see work that I expected to see, when I visited Louver this week. I’m lazy – when an artist has been working as long as I’ve been looking sometimes I stop experiencing the ideas for myself in the work, and find only the received understanding. Pull me out of myself, please. Seeing early work helps me do this – finding the initial ideas gives me context for further looking. Visit Louver.

Peter Shelton Slipper #24, from sixtyslippers, 1997 cast iron 60 discs of variable dimensions

1 Comment

  1. Great time with you at Louver, Geoff! Thanks for coming to The show!

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