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Alum Review: “Object Form: Thomas Stavovy” by Marco Palli

Thomas Stavovy is the artist in residency in the Dumbo Sculpture Studio and Gallery of the New York Studio School (NYSS) for the 2018-19 program. With a background in painting, he has dedicated three years to earning a certificate degree in sculpture from NYSS under the mentorship of Jilaine Jones, Bruce Gagnier, Jock Ireland, and Leonid Lerman. On June 6th, 2019, Mr. Stavovy opened his doors for The Dumbo Open Studios, displaying the latest iterations of his long-lasting explorations in the 3D.

This exhibition explores the stated “Object Form,” revealing the artist’s interest in the “process of making,” as well as an unconventional approach to display or “presentation.” The works expose the artist’s interest in scale, structure, and the tactile quality of surfaces.

Circumnavigating the gallery, one quickly realizes that none of the works are labeled, suggesting that Mr. Stavovy investigates something beyond the physical or far past the explainable. Some works are privileged by plinths, others are on studio stands, and some are on the wall, either hung, attached to it, or simply leaning against it. A few larger pieces stand directly on the floor, in a methodical organization that suggests that Mr. Stavovy is interested in incorporating “the space” as a sculptural material.

The predominant sculptural element is plaster that has been cast from reclaimed cardboard boxes. However, the artist also uses clay, paper, and found materials such as wood, paneling, wire, and conduit. Due to the constructive nature of these materials, which are more common at the hardware store than the artist’s supply store, one is instinctively provoked to question the “how was it made” aspects of the works. However, the materials do not always play a structural role. The work offers abundant details that may pass unseen until they surprise you–some of which may be the result of structural plans that were left off halfway into the making, as well as details that have been carefully orchestrated from the very beginning of the fabrication.

A couple of large pieces occupy the center of the space. One, a cardboard and plaster cast, the largest in the show, seems to be a plinth on the make. It suggests the construction of a column; however, columns are solid, but this one is hollow. It seems that the cardboard is just waiting to be removed to reveal the surface of this construct. The other one, a totem-like piece about 4 feet tall, is the marriage of a wooden base supporting a plaster fragment that is freestanding on the top. This plaster top seems to have been the cast of a worn-out warped side of a cardboard box reinforced with conduit. The two elements have been placed in delicate, yet dangerous, equilibrium, that makes this work the most demanding for attention, not only because it could hurt you if it falls on you, but because it is indeed inviting to meditate about the past conditions of the material in contrast to its current state. (Photo not included).

In an adjacent area, the artist displays a variety of works at varied scales: small and medium-sized, along with “The Minotaur” (not labeled, photo of this work is below for reference), a larger work standing directly on the floor. Mr. Stavovy has placed this grouping close to the walls in a semi-circular arrangement, in which the viewer could place her/himself in the center of the assembly surrounded by the works. This “inversion” of order, in terms of presentation, contributes to understand the artist’s dialogue between objecthood and personhood.

The smaller pieces present something that feels personal and intimate, perhaps internal spaces, where the word “home” comes to mind, perhaps “aha!” moments, and even vast spaces contained in tiny models that somewhat feel monumental. While on the other end of the spectrum, the larger works reveal the artist’s focus on construction, together with a master workman-like dedication whose forbearance seems obsessed with absolute verticality and horizontality deemed evident in “The Minotaur.” Even when there is a diagonal element, or an arabesque component in dynamic instability (such as in another of the smaller works in the exhibition), this element finds its significance in the vertical and horizontal parameters established elsewhere in the work. Thus, here lies a reaffirmation of the tradition in the artist’s work which keeps being present no matter how deconstructed the horizontal and its chum perpendicular remain king: the box.

The artist’s constructive rigor and engagement with gravity can be compared to that of the builders of the ancient pyramids. However, while the pyramids were meant to last for eternity, these works by Mr. Stavovy seem to be meant to exist only for the present.

Furthermore, it seems that nothing had been done to alter the natural color of the materials, as all of them are presented simply as they are. Nothing is coated with anything other than plaster. The white of the plaster is punctuated by the tan of the cardboard and wood, and the matte qualities of paper and cardboard also are contrasted with shiny metals, as if Mr. Stavovy is committed to working with material qualities that relate to function, volume, strength, and porosity more than to other qualities such as color, hue, or light.

The cumulative effect of contemplating these works, internalizing their material characteristics and process, together with the juxtaposition between intention and accident, make Mr. Stavovy’s work hard to define, label, or compare. The rigor to which these objects have been subjected, paired with their apparent transience, transports the viewer to a place apart from anecdote. This body of work connects to the tradition of Arte Povera, offering the viewer an opportunity to travel to a place out of time, urging to engage the work intellectually, apprehending the physical truth embodied by the object.

“Object Form: Thomas Stavovy” is possible thanks to Dumbo Open Studios (@20 Jay Street 307), and the New York Studio School. Visit by appointment. To schedule a visit please email info@nyss.org. The access to these works is available through June 29th, 2019.

Special thanks to artists Eva Jiménez-Cerdanya and Peggy Roalf for their invaluable input.

Snapshots From NYSS

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