Linda Yablonsky

Time Out New York
May 3-10, 2001
John Newman, “Homespun”
Von Lintel & Nusser, through May 26


If ever one wanted to reach out and touch the artwork, the urge becomes irresistible here. John Newman’s return to the local gallery scene, after a five-year absence, offers 15 nubby little handmade sculptures that are so sexy, it’s hard to resist cuddling up to them. They’re like teddy bears dressed in the architectural equivalents of haute couture. Not that these vibrant biomorphs actually resemble teddy bears. Several are more like elves that even George Lucas hasn’t dreamed up yet. Others suggest the homes such elves might inhabit.

The first piece on view has a gnomish “head” and the shape of a meerschaum pipe that doubles back on itself and trails a fantastic braid of copper wire. Blue Bubble conjures a futuristic tree house made of blue-penciled, white-molded foam with a central, blown-glass “living room.” Split Knot appears to be a wooden crescent with a flagstone handle and pretzel-like twist between its endpoints; it’s actually made of cast iron. A clamp-shaped affair sprouting stubby, taxi-yellow sprockets sits under its bell jar like a Homer Simpson dream of a space vehicle.

All these fantasies have resulted from Newman’s travels through India, Japan, China, Africa, Ireland, and Greece, where he communed with native craftsmen who make sophisticated designs out of the most primitive materials on hand. Newman has done likewise, and it’s easy to imagine this inveterate Postminimalist back in his studio concocting his own brew of bronze, wicker, rope, and papier- mâché and flocking from the twisty, freehand drawings also on display here. His dexterous constructions reach backward and forward at once, blending archaic techniques with modern technology an the formal with the sensual.

In spite of their considerable authority and invention, these objects might appear too cute, were they not given the discretion and simplicity of their installation here. Well spaced along a plain, semicircular pressboard table, their complex curves balanced as if by magic these urbane sculptures seem rather like terrific toys from an ultrachic Mad Hatter’s workshop.