by Marlena Doktorczyk-Donohue


(Merging One Gallery, Santa Monica) Sculptor Richard Beckman shows a suite of new works that visit Los Angeles after showings at galleries and museums in Florida and Maine. In the early '90s Beckman came out of grad school with roots influenced by artists like Martin Puryear and Mark Lere. He made objects that fused the rigor of a Minimalist, unitary sensibility to soft, organic form.

Beckman's earlier life-scaled objects, mainly in metal, seemed to amble along floors like helical springs or pods sprouting roots. The multi-piece installations inclined one to touch, rock and manipulate individual pieces, making it clear that his aesthetic was, and is, predicated on ideas of viewer engagement.

By the early '90s that post-Minimal revolution of breathing life back into reductivist art had fossilized into its own academy, and though Beckman was an excellent, if youthful, spokesperson, the moment had reached and then passed its plateau.

This new work abandons, for the most part, tough, hierarchic materials like steel and aluminum, warming instead to softer, organic media such as resin and sveltly tooled plywood.

The undulating, gourd-like volumes hold their incandescent, eccentric hues (limish green, teen-queen pink, etc.). These objects do not read as formal shapes that are covered with color, or alternately as utilitiarian shapes that suggest art. Rather they unfold as a complex experience happening along several linked modalities.

Beckman's works register in the body, where they provoke kinesthetic reactions like weight shift, holding, hovering, gravity. They register in the head as you work your way through the less obvious but rich cerebral and aesthetic relationships of edge to plane, of weight to counter-weight, or volume to chroma. And they register in some Jean Arp-ian uncounsciousness, where hollows and joints are always more than what they appear to be. The bubble-gum pink Decoy isn't just elemental shape, it is a body cavity that embodies the very idea of "cradling."

Characterizing the most notable advances that this new work makes from earlier work, Beckman takes more risks, abandons post-minimal cliches, and with these weird nippled, bulbous forms that prove able to oddly activate the viewing space, he stakes a visual territory more uniquely his own.


"In Utero", plywood,
33"x33"x74-1/4", 1994

"Knowzen", stained bass wood,
32"x48"x43", 1992-93

"Know-Eye-No", terrazo,
45"x19"x19", 1996-97

"Installation View", 1997