Sy Gresser's visual language is a throwback -- figural works reduced to almost elemental forms, but overlaid here and there with suggestions of stylization that can look like a blend of pre-Columbian and art deco motifs.
As such, Gresser looks like a sculptor whose roots are in the second quarter of the 20th century. And he is -- the booklet accompanying his current retrospective at Gomez reveals that Gresser began his work as an artist in 1949. This is actually only a partial retrospective: Of the 12 sculptures on view, three are from the 1960s and the other nine are from the last 10 years.
That probably matters little, though, since from the evidence here he has remained a remarkably consistent artist.
Judging by his more complex pieces and their titles -- "Cry for Water," "Hiroshima's Angel," "Caress" -- Gresser is groping for some major utterance about the human condition. On this level his works do not come across well. They can seem pretentious and ultimately empty.
But if one approaches his works as shaped stone (that is, as form rather than content), the more abstract of them can be quite pleasing. The general form of a work such as "The Unborn" has a kind of quiet monumentality, and the indentations at the top of the piece make one aware of the stone's qualities -- its solidity, its texture.
"Second Vow" pleases with its gentle curves, its suggestion of a face without any real delineation of features, the ebbs and swells of its shapes that create an interesting play of light and shadow across its surfaces.
Trying to figure out what "Vow" may mean is far less satisfying than seeing this as a depiction of shoulders and a back with a piece of rough-textured clothing draped across its lower half. On that level it works remarkably well.
One of Amalie Rothschild's chief assets as an artist has always been her sly sense of humor. It's especially noticeable in the show of her small sculpture and two-dimensional works that shares Gomez with Gresser this month.
"Pegasus" is a tiny chair with wings on it. In "Totem," a small figure stands atop an upright tree branch that acts as pedestal, but also has a "skirt" of jute. For "Target," she allowed a round piece of metal to rust onto a piece of paper, leaving a speckled circle as torso to which she added the rest of a human being in ink and watercolor. And her "Patrons" can be read two ways, as two full figures or as two faces in profile. When read the second way, they're a delightful satire on the expressions one may see on viewers' faces.
SCULPTURE AT GOMEZ
What: Sy Gresser and Amalie Rothschild
Where: Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through March 11
Call: (410) 752-2080