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Mel Kendrick in Madison Square Park

Mel Kendrick: Markers
Mad. Sq. Art. 2009
a project of the Madison Square Park Conservancy
Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street, New York
September 17 - December 31, 2009

September 18, 2009. Attended an opening yesterday evening for Mel Kendrick's Markers, five striated, black and white, monumental concrete sculptures that will sit in totemic splendor on the main lawn of Madison Square Park for the rest of this year.

They represent both the first public art project for Kendrick, and also incorporate a new materiality - cast concrete - for this formally innovative artist who has previously adhered to one of the more traditional practices, that of a slicer, carver, gouger and gluer of wood.

Kendrick's essential method remains the same: discovering the form within the cube through a steady process of subtraction and addition, deletion and recombination, a sly variation on Auguste Rodin's dictum to "choose a block ... and chop off whatever I don't need". Kendrick's method is to excavate the block but to then reassemble the "discarded" elements as the top half of his pieces, a synthetic, bipartite tweaking of Rodin's method which recalls the base/object dualities of that supreme worker in wood, Constantin Brancusi, while also seemingly incorporating Jasper John's famous formula of 1965: “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it."

The play of form, of absence and presence, of negative and positive space, of thrust and parry, of inside and outside, of black and white, of yin and yang (or, if you will, of Rodin's "hole" and "lump") is not just an intellectual exercise for Kendrick, but the exact formal result of his method, with all the elegance of a zero sum game, wherein every action ordains an equal and opposite reaction. But his method is not merely a sculptural realization of Newton's third law of motion. His inherent commitment to conservation, to using only those elements removed from the bottom as recombinants for the shapes and statements on top, endows each of his sculptures with an austere moral force. Kendrick is literally building new histories from the shells of the old, with the added fillip of juxtaposing one atop the other in a fully integrated form.

Yet his work does not exist merely on this rarefied Platonic plane. The bold, striated, alternating areas of black and white audaciously pop out amid the park's greenery, and the line of sculptures is positively "edificial", recalling the ranked architecture of surrounding buildings like the Flatiron, the Met Life and other more recent constructions. Markers are decidedly part of the "real" world of commerce and entertainment and quotidien allure, especially in a supremely public context like a New York City park.

In his opening statement yesterday, Kendrick acknowledged the differences between art viewed in the comparatively rarefied domain of a gallery or museum by a self selecting elite of collectors, critics and art connoisseurs, and public work that could potentially be seen by a daily audience of 40,000 office workers taking lunch, moms and dads with strollers, dog walkers, park employees, construction crews, etc. It's not that the physical reality of the art work has changed, but its potential reception certainly has. Which is the express purpose of Mad. Sq. Art., a "gallery without walls".