The origin of Richard Stankiewicz’s marvelous junkyard sculpture was, as the artist liked to tell it, the preparation for a garden. Digging in a city yard in 1951, Stankiewicz discovered several rusted metal objects, which, when placed together, took on a nearly spiritual presence. The moment may have drawn the artist back to boyhood romps in a Detroit foundry dump, but it also served as a link to his then recent studies with Ossip Zadkine and, in particular, Fernand Léger. Much of Stankiewicz’s work—long supported by gallerist Virginia Zabriskie—would combine machine-inspired fantasy (Léger) with figurative cubism (Zadkine). His first sculptures, the core of this show, were like fragile scaffolding for later, heavier work: Long pieces of wire, held together by metal threads or twine and sometimes coated with plaster, suggest birds, insects, or the human form. In their rusted spindles and joints, you sense, too, the possibility of some mechanical action, if only for a little oil.
The artist’s best-known pieces—assembled from corroded scraps of iron with messy welds (Stankiewicz’s torch technique was never professional)—often appear like abandoned robots or contraptions of unfathomable function. The raw cube of Dumpster/Figure beseeches the viewer with wrench-like arms; in a wall-mounted structure, a hammer-like cylinder seems to be shattering the work itself. Stankiewicz, who died in 1982, occasionally let his work slip into the kitsch of beach-town souvenirs (a series of late reliefs portraying a flaccid penis is one example here), but his best efforts were delightfully inventive.
Conrad Marca-Relli: ‘The New York Years, 1945–1967’
If you’re tired of that familiar roll call of abstract expressionists, then this striking exhibit of work by Conrad Marca-Relli might be a revelation. Often dismissed in his time for not being a true painter, and overlooked today, the peripatetic Italian artist began his career as a surrealist in the style of de Chirico, but soon found that collaged abstraction better suited his ideas. His method was meticulous: He cut or tore canvas into shapes, then, through much trial and error, affixed the pieces to a painted surface to create wonderfully intricate earth-toned patterns, fragmented and seamed like jigsaw puzzles.
Though the works appear at first as paintings, their textured layers create a depth that pure oils simply can’t match. A seated figure from 1952 refines—and, frankly, surpasses—similar visions by De Kooning, while the black-and-white masses of Figure Form #2 make Robert Motherwell’s solid forms seem flat in comparison. In other collages, Marca-Relli riveted angular shapes cut from sheet metal onto panels; like sections from the hulls of crazily patched-up ships (one, in red and blue, is playfully titled Cunard), they’re wonderfully sleek and original. Shunning publicity even as a member of the brash New York School—his biggest moment may have been identifying the body of Jackson Pollock—Marca-Relli was a quiet genius. Knoedler and Company, 19 E 70th St, 212-794-0550. Through November 14
James Turrell: ‘Large Holograms’
An encounter, almost 30 years ago, with one of James Turrell’s installations of light remains one of my most thrilling experiences of art, even though there was nothing to see except an empty room with a phantom wall. But in Turrell’s hands, light itself—isolated, manipulated, re-contextualized—becomes a meditative object, often with illusionary results. He’s probably best known for his skyspaces—most famously, the Roden Crater Project inside a dormant volcano—in which viewers see a framed section of sky, re-colored through the use of clever interior lighting.
Turrell has also worked with holograms, and here he has installed more than a dozen new pieces that present, on dark mirrors, simple geometric forms that float in three dimensions. Glowing in vibrant but spectral translucence, a yellow rectangle appears to extend several feet beyond the wall, a shimmery blue ring tilts inward, and planes of graduated colors intersect. None of the objects will knock your socks off, but that’s not Turrell’s intent. Rather, the collection of these solitary shapes suggests the silent group worship of Quakerism, the artist’s chosen faith. Stand there long enough in what the Quakers call “expectant waiting,” and you might just discover a little mysticism. PaceWildenstein, 534 W 25th St, 212-929-7000. Through October 17