From the dark, a face emerges, cheeks bracketed by streams of textured metal—a mythical winged cherub, an angel, an alien, a god. What first appear as wings are soon revealed to be the sides of other, identical faces. Walking around the sculpture, a complex, interlocking system of portraits unfolds. There is a commentary on the interconnectedness of community, but also on our internalized fragmentations, our duplicitous natures. We might know of Janus, the two-faced god, but these deities have multiple faces, features that slip and merge unrelentingly into one another.
With “TITANS: A dialogue between materials, space and time” (on view through October 31, 2021), Wallace Chan emerges as a formidable creative force. The Chinese artist is best known as a jeweler, so esteemed that a three-dimensional carving technique he pioneered in 1987 is named the “Wallace Cut.” Inspired by that dynamic geometry, in which a gemstone reveals a dramatic fourfold reflection from a single carved face on its back, Chan has created an echo of his innovation in an entirely new medium for his first major exhibition of sculptural work.
In the series “A Dialogue between Materials and Time,” a vibrant scaffolding of iron supports and splits great titanium constructions, faces caught within strange spaces, confined and framed in the process of being pulled apart or put back together. With time, the iron will act as an earthy root, rusting away gently, while the titanium will endure. A sense of this eventual absence rings out in the majesty of a pendulum hanging from the ceiling; suspended like a giant stalactite, it reaches down to a metal pool on the floor as if the material were still molten, warped faces caught spiraling in its gravitational pull.
In a corner, a smaller face contemplates its reflection in a subtle doubling; it acts like a sundial, its shadows slowly tracking across the floor in cyclic rounds. An immersive site-specific installation uses a combination of wall-mounted titanium faces and mirrors to bounce light from one sculpture to another in vivid greens and blues, a shimmering mirage that pays homage to the lagoon and the Venetian tradition of mesmerizing reflections and visual illusions. Chan defines light as “a self-revising puzzle that is always changing,” and this characterization illuminates the complex structures of his sculptures, which are themselves puzzles that continue to reawaken viewers with each encounter.
When Chan originally conceived the “Wallace Cut,” he also invented the necessary tools to achieve such a feat. In titanium—a notoriously difficult material used mainly in the aerospace industry, due to its lightness and durability—his tools gave way under the pressure. Where others would have given up, Chan stayed the course and simply bought new tools. Envisioning the sculptures, he pushed them into existence. His works are the products of persistence, a patience of mammoth proportions, and a captivating energy that emanates from them still.
In Greek mythology, the Titans were immortal gods (though defeated and replaced by the Olympians). By using such a unique medium, Chan has attempted to endow his unprecedented large-scale creations with a comparable longevity. Monumental, standing like relics from a past civilization, these works also point toward the future—sculptures that live outside of time.