How about this for a confluence of events: an Anthony Caro retrospective at Tate Britain, the death of the Pope followed by all the attention lavished on his highly minimal coffin with just a stark ‘M’ carved on its face, and Eva Rothschild’s exhibition at Modern Art? In the past the Irish artist has spoken of her interest in ‘how people move their “spiritual” desires between different objects and traditions’. There is a trace of the ‘spiritual’ embodied by a ‘thing’—perhaps. Rothschild’s works scratch at this zone between ‘Is it just an object?’ or ‘Is there more to it than that?’
The show is presented in two spaces, its larger room populated with a trio of human-scale sculptures. All spindly, these painted wooden structures look like Andre Cadere’s ‘Barres de Bois’ manhandled by Picasso. On each, a form, geometric or tree-like, is supported on four thin table-like legs, while attached to the ceiling is a triangular structure held up by kitschy ceramic ‘Madonna’ hands. In the other room, more free-standing linear objects are joined by her trademark lattice-weaves on the walls. Aside from the readymade devotional hands, titles like ‘Valley of the Kings’ and ‘Weeping Willow’ hint at the source of her inspiration. And yet, on the whole, Rothschild has moved away from the more obvious symbols and archetypal shapes that were to be found in her earlier pieces.
Instead another idea of spirit is foreground, and that is her use of a Modernist sculptural language. The rejection of the kind of formal idiom that swept Caro to fame could today be interpreted as a general loss of faith, yet Rothschild’s renewal of this particular abstract language, like the New Age symbolism of her earlier pieces, revitalises it with a newfound purpose. Certainly her inclusion in the Whitechapel’s 2002 contemporary sculpture show, Early One Morning—also the title of one of Caro’s breakthrough works—confirmed her as part of a new generation of British sculptors who are irreverently revisiting their modernist roots. There’s no direct correlation between the younger sculptor’s work and the octogenarian’s but there is, at least, a trace of a certain formal spirit. And spirit, here, is the key. These whimsical yet intriguing objects draw us toward the periphery of consciousness. Do they intend to signify?
By contrast with her free-standing sculpture, Rothschild’s psychedelic weaves no longer seem as refreshing as they once did. Wildness and fantasy have been replaced by the desire for a certain craftsmanship. Yet this sense of industry is part of what’s so enticing about her work. Rothschild has picked up on a need for the hand-made nature of sculpture-in-the-round in the midst of all the Duchampian objects and ‘conceptual sculpture’ around. The fact that Rothschild’s work stands between faith and its objects, between her visual language and its history, her ‘idea’ and the result, may appear to indicate an uncertainty in intention, yet it is just this taut antithesis that seems appropriate for our moment.
Sherman Sam is an artist and writer