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The American minimalist sculptor Donald Judd famously observed that the art object is a non-referential thing that is specifically itself, and its material is the material of its making. Instrumental in defining a movement in the 1960s that changed the look of art and altered the practice of artists, Judd provided a paradigm for subsequent generations of artists to pursue aesthetic experience through reductive, geometric abstraction in every medium. Polish-born Anna Skibska, taking that paradigm into an arena unanticipated by Judd, has created a systematic body of sculpture that stretches the imagination and medium of glass to sensuous heights.

 

Using the simplest of techniques and materials—flame-work and glass rods—the artist builds complex, three-dimensional grids that layer flat pattern until the clear glass lines become edges defining voids in ever-expanding armatures. In a delicate, laborious process, building one rod at a time, Skibska virtually draws in space with the glass, inventing translucent volumes as if molecules were tangible, and generative forms that suggest crystalline formations in nature. Ranging in size from single, fourteen-inch cubes to room-filling, multi-part installations, this Seattle-based artist’s work redefines sculpture outside of traditional notions of weight and mass.

 

We experience these works by looking through them, their very porosity becoming volume. Circumnavigating the suspended forms, the viewer discovers a constantly shifting visual experience of sparkle and shadow as the delicate latticework’s patterns expand and collapse. Any order first glimpsed dissipates in the glimmering rods and fractured strands that trap light and glow; like the effect of flowing water, the structure is never in visual stasis.

 

Highly optical, the work resists any categorization beyond the most rudimentary set of referents that hold the viewer to the tumble of looking. In these works, Skibska uses a variety of forms of rods—straight, drawn, slumped, flattened, and broken—to visually tantalize the eye. The sculptural motifs explored in the current exhibition range from simplified geometric forms stacked together and suspended in air to less predictable, skittering shards of cellular form, like racing clouds aligned along heavier, stabilizing glass rods. The plastic expression contained within the material, form, and context of the works gives over to the understanding of an order driven by process. Free of meaning, the abstract works constitute sites open to contemplation; their significance will shift as each viewer finds fresh meaning in the variable light and angle of viewing to be discovered in Skibska’s intricate webs of silence.

 

 

Bruce Guenther

Portland Art Museum, Oregon