Stephen Westfall, 1987

Jersey City Museum, Jersey City, NJ

This is a fitting moment for a survey of Pat Lay’s recent sculpture. There is a resurgent interest in sculpture in general and particularly in an abstract sculpture that restores some associative play to its vocabulary. The literalist doctrines of the Minimalist geometries that dominated so much of the ’60s and ’70s sculpture are now regarded as both naive and no fun. Hypocritical too, for in declining the Romantic Mannerism of late Abstract Expressionism and Pop’s built-in consumerist giggle, Minimalism was in part Pop’s substituting its own Romantic cultification of artful, black and white installation shots and no-nonsense interviews. Lay’s work yields nothing to Minimalism in its formal rigor, but her formalism is at the service of a recombinant attitude that invites association and thrives on the bringing-together of wildly contrasting materials and volumes.

Lay’s new sculpture combines steel planes welded into geometric structures that cradle and conceal pointed, football-shaped ceramic volumes. The ceramics can be read as “abstract” geometric forms, but organic associations — leaf, bud, fish — are present. These associations are furthered by the contrast between the curving and swelling ceramics and the straight-edged planes of steel armature is oddly psychological — projecting hard-edged (literally) geometry into the arena of organic sentience. And the precious floral surprise of the simultaneously lush and brittle color of the slip-glaze coating the ceramic form gives you a sense that what is being held there is worth shielding. The vertical striations scoring the chalky, luminous slip will expand across the forms until they correspond with a metal edge that is being overlapped. Thus, an unexpectedly complex interchange that is both psychological and formal is set in motion between the ceramic and metal elements. The interchange, a friction that generates metaphor, becomes an integration mediated by the unifying compactness of this body of work.