“Gene Koss”, Arthur Roger Gallery


Arthur Roger Gallery
New York, NY
Catalogue Essay

Two large sculptures and one small one were shown in the New Orleans artist’s first solo show in New York. Timber, Plow and Ridge Road Climb unveiled an artist of skill, intervention, and unexpected beauty. The two largest, first-mentioned, works both had neon tubing embedded in square cast glass plates sandwiched together. Freestanding, they represented a shift from the 45-year-old sculptor’s earlier work, which often used large metal wheels on the base. Now stationary, they juxtapose industrial materials like steel and wood with the ram-pressed glass blocks.

Weighing in at three and one half tons, Timber has a steel plate base that holds a long square-cut wooden beam at a 45° angle. At its base but above the steel plates, roughly 80 glass plates are set parallel to the floor and attached at one end to the wood.

Fabricated in New Orleans, Timber originates from a series of process pieces Koss did as a graduate student at Tyler School of Art, where he studied with Jon Clark and Italo Scanga. These were photographed and destroyed. Sixteen years later, the new works extend these ideas into more permanent form. Koss seems to be dealing with the often uncomfortable interface of industrial and studio activities, and with the contradictory tensions of fragile glass and robust wood.

This is deceptive, however, because, upon closer inspection, the glass seems stronger than the wood. With the wood left untreated, its contrast to the glass is severe, vulnerable.

Colors are injected into the molds of glass and, with the interior core of white neon tubing, a space age or eerie mechanical sense is suggested. On another level, the teetering balance of the lofty wooden beam and lower glass symbolizes the opposite directions in which environmental and manufacturing concerns can pull us. Stable, yet appearing as if it might not hold together, Timber is a tour-de-force with fascinating implications.

Plow plays off Koss’ rural Wisconsin roots in its symbolic farm function, but with its curlicue end, recalls the ornamental iron work of New Orleans’ French Quarter. Now the glass slabs are more colorful, like frozen Mardi Gras confetti, and set on an upward curving steel trough form. Massive yet elegant, it has one-inch plate steel underneath the glass and on the floor. The base is flat textured steel but the “handle” of the plow has a pleasingly rough texture, all the better for some farmer to grip. Koss is elevating blue-collar activities such as farming or logging to the level of high art and paying tribute to tools and farm machinery that someday may become a dim memory. Plow is a celebration of agrarian labor as well as an enigmatic work of abstract sculpture. With the aid of assistant Chris Greve, Plow took 12 months to complete. Master Murano glassworker Pino Signoretto collaborated on Ridge Road Climb while Koss was in Italy on a Pace-Wilson Art Foundation grant. Far smaller, it shows how Koss could fruitfully pursue pedestal-size sculptures as well. Curved in shape, the piece was “built on a rod” in the Ars Murano hotshop. With a frosty surface, a flattened semicircular shape sits on a blown-glass base. A “moon” shape is attached to the side and a gold-leaf area perches on top. The link to the other pieces is not clear in terms of meaning, but the variety of techniques enriched the exhibition.

Koss has exhibited widely in the South since he began teaching at Tulane in 1976 and he has been included in group shows at Arthur Roger in 1985 and at the New York Experimental Glass Workshop in 1989. He brings his own individuality to the art world and demonstrates how the most interesting work done in glass today often uses the material in connection with other media.