BRET PRICE

by Shirle Gottlieb

 

"Giant Step," steel, 14 x 12 x 9', 1997.

"Whisk," painted steel.

"Politically Erect--Red Unit #2," painted steel.

"Lip Service," painted steel.

 (Tustin Renaissance Gallery, Orange County) Staring up at Giant Step--an elegant, monumental scuplture constructed from industrial steel--one feels like a Lilliputian gaping at a twisted piece of ribbon. Standing fourteen feet tall, folded into two free-form shapes that loop back on each other, this is the largest piece of sculpture the artist has created to date.

People are not accustomed to seeing H-steel beams assume the form of flexible materials but for Bret Price, it's the ultimate challenge. For the past 20 years he's been exploring the process of heating steel in special ovens until it's red-hot, then twisting and manipulating the malleable metal as if it were clay.

All one of a kind, some of Price's works are painted with high-tech polyurethane: fire-engine red, bronze, silver, or a two-toned cobalt blue which resembles Venetian glass. Others are oiled to achieve a natural patina surface, or left to the elements and per- mitted to oxidize, weather and rust.

Whatever size, shape or color, Price imbues a sense of spontaneity, playfulness and wit that is quite surprising for such reduced abstract designs. Whether six-feet tall and standing on the floor, three-feet high and sitting on a pedestal, or a two-foot construction fixed to the wall, this is attention-grabbing work that is capable of engaging your aesthetic curiosity, challenging your intellect, and tapping your sense of humor. Then you read the title--and you're hooked.

An example is Rococo-A-Go-Go, a bronze spiral of wild curly-cues and twisted tentacles that seem to dance in the wind (they're made from static steel, remember). Its art historical reference is bound to elicit a smile. Another, Politically Erect #1, is a rod painted crimson red that twists straight into the air, with a bunch of glass marbles embedded at its base. Politically Erect Blue Unit and Politically Erect Bronze both echo #1 to form a strong statement as a group.

Then there's the tabletop structure, Lip Service, a free-form ribbon of steel bent into a form that suggests both calligraphy and hieroplyphics. Cuffed is an elegant organic tulip-shape that grows out of an industrial joint known in the trade as a cuff.

Conch is a beautifully balanced 60-inch shell-shape about to take flight. Its appearance is simultaneously classic and contemporary. Twitch, a stunning steel cylindrical for, seems to be twisting off its cement pedestal. If Wish evokes a splash of black paint about to leap off the wall, then the series of steel squiggles resembling automatic writing are certainly well-named in Hard Drawings.

From the playfulness of an acknowledged visual punster to the formal austerity of a student of Brancusi, this is a delightful gathering.

Also on exhibit are the sculpted canvases of Allison Casciari, who makes full-sized plaster casts of her own body, painting and incorporating them into wall-mounted canvases. The results are bas relief forms that hover between neo-Classicism and Post-Modernism.