Thursday, April 26, 2012

Peter Shelton: powerhousefrenchtablenecklaces at Sperone Westwater

Peter Shelton sculptures were produced from 1989 to present. Each sculpture is abstract but also combines more literal imagery. Elemental combinations of water and bronze are vibrant in each piece. The kinetic sculptures fill the room with sounds of gentle splashing water. The calm and somber sculptures have a connection to the human body by use of hollow vessels and slow running water.
Peter Shelton titled his show powerhousefrenchtablenecklaces. This obscure title links some of the materials used in the show bronze, copper, French table, necklaces, random items, and water. The cover of the shows card has an upside down skull with water dripping out of the nose hole. This sets the tone for the ritual experience the viewer is about to embark on. One begins to roam slowly throughout the installation. Each large sculpture, warm in color and sound, invite the viewer to come closer and investigate each piece. In powerhousefrenchtablenecklaces one of the sculptures has water running all over necklaces. After exploring each piece you begin to focus in on how many moments each sculpture has. The house pictured above hangs with a creepy slight tilt and copper tubes running in and out of each floor, nook, and cranny inside the house. As you peer in you can see each floor has water running down the stairs filling up the cavity of each empty space. The viewer feels like a giant peeking in on a shrunken flooded home. The connection between water and the empty cavities is close to human bodily fluids and the hollow yet complex vessel the human body. Each sculpture has so many different angels in which to view each assemblage. 

Shelton uses many different sculptures that represent vessels throughout the entire installation.  (Pagodawindowskull, 1993. Bronze, water, copper, pump, and wood, 68 x 16 x 16 in. 600 (172.7 x 40.6 x 40.6 cm.) This piece has water dripping from upside down architecture onto the skull. With the water dripping all over the bronze and copper it begins to have the texture of skin. The soft glistening copper is reminiscent of the dermis. Using a skull is tricky in fine art and it can be a cliché, but how Peter Shelton combines the water and material is removed from cheesy skull art.  Shelton sculptures do not have a gothic or grotesque tone. The materials balance each other out with the hard outer surface laced with running water. The bronze shine sharp hints of blues and iron oxide tones while the water curls over the top half of the skull. The assemblage with kinetic movement and sound gently touches the senses. Shelton's installation powerhousefrenchtablenecklaces is full of sculptures that link the vessel and the human body. The connection between body and fluid is shown throughout the installation space. Once you enter the other room two large sculptures appear opposite in texture and color. 

These large-scale fiberglass sculptures are intense. They look like gigantic body organs with many different holes. The sculptures welcome viewers to approach and investigate the meaning. The connection between vessel and human body become clear in this space. You can peer in each hole, even the awkwardly placed holes where the viewer has to kneel down to see. These pieces take some participation to fully embrace the connection between vessel and body. These pieces in conjunction with the bronze pieces in the other room are a reference of body and fluids. The sculptures also appear to be soft sculptures but in reality are fiberglass. The contrast of hard and soft is like the human body. 

Peter Shelton: powerhousefrenchtablenecklaces is a strong installation that utilizes kinetic sculpture. The combination of vessel, fluid, architecture, and human body links use with the material items we surround ourselves with. Home and body in conjunction with vessel and water are important themes in Shelton’s installation. Water is an important element that is vital to our survival on earth.


  1. I like many of the ideas you mention, but your prose is choppy in parts-- I would suggest writing a draft and then kind of sewing up passages for maximum elegance as you go back through. Also, many of the phrases you use, such as “play a huge role”, “water running all over” and works like “weird” and “gigantic” are vague, and could be re-qualified or explained with more specific, descriptive language. Also, in your concluding paragraph, I’m not sure what “aww” means, and “breath” should be “breath”. Overall, however, I agree with your findings and I think you have some good observations.

  2. Nice job, I honestly did not make the connection between the sculptural works and the human body when I saw the show. I think that you should explore this idea further in your critique. Also, when you begin you should take the viewer through the actual space. By this I mean imagine describing what the show looks like to a person who cannot visit it. This way you avoid using descriptive words that might not be necessary. Instead you have vivid descriptions of the work in the room.
    I think your opening paragraph should mention the body and body fluids, something that you explore in the "body" of the piece.