Though Enrico David has never felt it necessary to confine himself to any one particular medium, his exhibition of recent sculpture, “Destroyed Men Come and Go” (on view through August 20), makes a case that he perhaps best manages to reinvent the sublime within the three-dimensional sphere. Putting forth a haptic otherness that nods to classical sculpture’s concern with the human form while simultaneously underpinning it with a sly, understated humor, David joins the company of those the late literary critic Hugh Kenner deemed “the stoic comedians.”
The theatricality that often results from David’s spatial stagings—not in Michael Fried’s negative sense, but in the underlying dramatic narratives they seem to pose—is the very thing that transports these deceptively minimal gestures beyond the blunt thingness of their renderings (typically out of heavy materials, such as cast iron, steel, and bronze, though occasionally tempered with interruptions of cotton and rubber) and into an imaginative isolation. A two-part Untitled composition from 2015 demonstrates this most dramatically. In the first arrangement, an elongated figure, cast in polymer plaster, lies on its side with its head nestled on a cast-iron ball, curving its way horizontally across a glass-encased, watercolor-on-paper painting of swirling green lines. In the second, the figure appears to have been ripped from classical Greek statuary, albeit in an impossibly mangled vertical position, with his arms wrapped around his ankles, head resting on the floor. Here, the cast-iron ball motif is re-established: three of these objects are situated at a short remove from the figure’s Homerically empty eyes—they might be dice or pétanque boules, depending on the scale at which the viewer intends to register their perception. Any number of relationships can be posited between these two staged “situations,” though to my mind, they emerge as harbingers of an unnamable existential duress, a pain that can only be dealt with in retrospect, by greeting its encrypted absurdities with laughter.
In the main hall, David’s sculptures have been expertly arranged within the sparse open architecture of the space, with its concrete floor and wraparound clerestories. One of his most recent works, Dame à l’éponge (2023), is a Picasso-esque deployment of wily line as form. With a heavy rock as a base, a couple of wires jut out to infer a female figure, clothed in white hanging fabric and with a sculpted mask for a face; two skinny gloved hands read like a cartoon version of a Giacometti, reaching out to said sponge, which projects at an unreachable distance on the end of a cold cast-bronze stick, itself tied to a dejectedly weighed-down piece of bamboo. It’s a magisterial work that could only have come from an artist with a connoisseurial appreciation and understanding of the history of Modernist sculpture.
Did an entirely different sculptor conceive Self-Portrait as a Proposal for a Town Planner (2023), with its twisted triangular aluminum beams occupying the largest hunk of the space? It seems possible, until one notices the fragment of human form lying on its side attached to the contraption’s front end—an alleged likeness of David himself, the top third of his body cloaked and carrying a large rock on his head. Why not, after all, branch out into landscape—the farthest reaches of expression to which the sculptural medium might extend? Ultimately, David demonstrates here that there are very few, if any, limits to his language.