Monkeys in the Mist


Loren Madsen, like many other abstract sculptors of the past 50 years, is part carpenter, part engineer and part idolater. Wood and steel and wire become transcendent as he designs abstractions with all the grace and purpose we project our gods to have had when brewing us up from a stew of nothingness.

The one thing Madsen’s sculptures, or most abstract sculptures in general, weren’t, was poetry—at least not according to my definition. They tended to be free from the angst and agitation of the world around us, and I saw them like the monolith in 2001—beautiful, tense, permanent, but belonging to a time and place not distinctly our own.

With his new installation 6,000,000,000 Monkeys currently on display at the University Art Gallery in the Staller Center at SUNY Stony Brook, Madsen attempts to address both content and context with a provocative set of aesthetic calculations.

Inspired by the aphorism that, given a thousand years, a thousand monkeys sitting at typewriters will eventually produce a Hamlet, Madsen creates seemingly abstract sculptures that have an interesting subtext. The main part of the gallery is taken up by a large, somewhat mushroom-shaped piece constructed out of wood with an aluminum finish. At first impression, we are at 2001, intrigued, awed and ultimately alienated by its other-worldliness. However, if the viewer is ambitious enough to read the artist’s statement, we find out that the piece is a kind of 3-D graph showing population statistics from 10,000 B.C. to the year 2000 A.D. We are then to connect this with the idea that each of us is a potential art producer, and perhaps one of us is the monkey working on Hamlet II.

The second section of the space features a clockwork mechanism that generates random words or non-words and a poster that sports a scientific breakdown of the most frequently appearing words in Hamlet. These facets support the central piece sort of like Nabokovian footnotes, indispensable yet strangely dismissable. What we return to again is the central piece. Again it is mass, it is form, it is line, it is light, it is shadow, it is the obscure. And now it is sociology with a minor in philosophy. It is still a gorgeous work of art; it is still not poetry.

6,000,000,000 Monkeys by Loren Madsen, through Dec 12 at University Art Gallery, Staller Center for the Arts. SUNY Stony Brook, 516-642-7240.