Enrico David - Michael Werner Gallery
Jonathan Goodman
September 2015

Idiosyncrasy in contemporary sculpture has a way of communicating pleasure and humor, and Enrico David’s recent show did exactly that. His works play with the figure but also maintain a genuine sculptural intelligence that supports his offbeat themes. We know figurative sculpture is one of the West’s oldest visual traditions, so that it is no longer easy to find openings for new visions within its established legacy. But David’s work, with its bodies sculpted on top of each other so that they repetitively construct three-dimensional forms, pushes forward despite—or because of—its engaging eccentricity. This work presents itself, then, as an independent way of seeing, to the point where the odd forms can claim new insight. Although David often risks his enterprise by approaching caricature, we can recognize his quirkiness as something we have not yet experienced.

David mostly creates drawings and tabletop-size sculptures. Tools and Toys III (2014), one of the most striking sculptures, consists of a figure-like shape with four extended limbs but no head. A halo of thin metallic wires extending from the body likely represents an aura. One of the upward-rising limbs is distinctly phallic, eroticizing a form that seems otherwise spiritually inclined. It is hard to find precedents for Tools and Toys III, even within David’s output. It poses questions  about figurative form and about presenting a mental conception at once ethereal and sexually direct. In Putting Up with It (2014), five human forms, their gender unknown, sitting one on top of the other, present a conundrum. What, exactly, do these figures mean? David offers no clue or hint to indicate how we might read the form, and so we are left with a ghostly presentation of five beings whose recalcitrance to interpretation is part of a compelling, intelligent mannerism that keeps us interested. 

To appreciate David’s work is to envision it on its own terms. One untitled sculpture from 2014 presents a standing female nude, head tilting backward in a heaven-directed gaze. She bears a distinct resemblance to the female forms of the Modernist sculptor Elie Nadelman, though David’s figure is more than a bit disquieting—a feeling generated by many of his pieces. The absurdity, however, ensures that viewers will look closely at the embodied structures that David makes so carefully (usually he uses jesmonite, a fairly new material, for casting). 
Life sentances (2014), one of the most interesting pieces in the show, consists of an open bronze network of stick-like forms slowly rising to a human head. The figure holds a book, and while the overall concept is decidedly unfamiliar, it cannot hold back the work’s forceful mixture of abstract and representational forms. This is not an easy sculpture to interpret—the title gives little help—but it remains in the memory, like most of David’s sculptures. David sacrifices clarity for uniqueness, and it is our job to make sense of and clarify his anomalous style.