Studio shot of new works, 2022. Bronze, copper, stainless steel, stoneware, shells, barnacles, and porcelain figurines, dimensions variable. Photo: Frank Heath

Destructive Forces: A Conversation with Jon Kessler

Jon Kessler emerged in the early 1980s with mixed-media wall constructions that incorporated readymades and machine-driven movement, works that juxtaposed discrete zones of figuration against an armature and islands of abstraction, balanced biomorphic and geometric forms, and embraced color, pattern, and decoration. The delicacy and over-the-top eclectic range of these early assemblages riffed on the Cubist grid to provide a poetic, occasionally impish retort to the bombast of Neo-Expressionist painting while tickling established taste. The next chapter of Kessler’s work introduced video cameras into zany, gut-pounding kinetic constructions, which generated live—and thus ephemeral—footage encompassing parts of the assemblage, surrounding and/or peripheral spaces, and visitors seized (without pity) by the voracious lens. In recent years, Kessler has turned away from chaos and carnage to produce what he considers his third distinct body of work—precarious sculptures that revisit Modernism to carve out sanctuary.

Michaël Amy: How did your early work come about?
Jon Kessler: I was a child of E.A.T.—Experiments in Art and Technology, which I learned about as an undergraduate. I wanted to be part of that zeitgeist. Having moved to Williamsburg in 1980 (I was in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program), I learned how to make my work on Canal Street, using all the amazing shops that were there then. A lot of my work responded to what I found—I relied on the found object . . .

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