Charles Ray, Walking a Fine Line With a Hungry Lion

WALDEN, N.Y. — The Los Angeles sculptor Charles Ray wakened at 5 a.m. and walked for 4 hours, as he does daily, each for his well being and for solitary reflection time.

Only he was in New York City on the time, so he used Central Park. Energized, he bought right into a automobile and got here up right here to the Polich Tallix foundry in Orange County, to see some males a couple of lion and a canine.

Mr. Ray, who is thought for his mysterious figural sculptures that “circle ancient themes and conventions,” as Roberta Smith wrote in a evaluate, was ending his painstaking work final month on new variations of a 2017 piece, “Mountain Lion Attacking a Dog,” for the exhibition at Matthew Marks Gallery in Chelsea, by June 16.

The solid sculpture contains two foremost items, interlocking the place the mouth of the lion meets the neck of the canine — the killing second frozen in time. And it epitomizes the artist’s enigmatic relationship along with his material. Even when he’s sculpting a nature scene, Mr. Ray reveals one thing uncanny that may provoke a response.

You wouldn’t essentially understand it from his course of, which is steeped in artwork historic and aesthetic considerations. Wearing a darkish knit cap that hid his unruly hair, Mr. Ray agonized, meditated and philosophized about each side of the piece.

Just the seams on “Mountain Lion” have occupied his thoughts for a yr — he doesn’t “encourage” them, he stated, nevertheless it typically can’t be helped. “Sculpture and seams are like boxers and broken noses: They go hand in hand.”

The 5 new items within the present signify a big portion of the work he has accomplished since his 2014-2015 retrospective, proven in Chicago, which can assist clarify why they price between $2 million and $eight million every. For a serious artist, Mr. Ray produces little or no. “I work very slowly,” he stated.

Mr. Ray had accomplished a sterling silver model with a wealthy gleam that made it laborious to look away from. Next to it was a stainless-steel model that required extra sprucing. “The stainless is like video, with all the realism and information, and the silver is like cinema, it’s warm and emotional,” stated Mr. Ray, 64, who is thought to all as Charley.

Some 40 individuals have had a hand sooner or later within the several-year course of making the work. It started with having an actual mountain lion in his studio, gnawing at a steak that was nailed to a chunk of wooden.

The piece was impressed by the sculptor’s lengthy walks within the hills above Los Angeles, the place the wild cats prowl, and in addition by a Greek marble sculpture, “Lion Attacking a Horse,” that Mr. Ray noticed on the J. Paul Getty Museum.

But ask what it’s about, and also you’ll get a sideways reply. “One could say I’ve spent a great deal of time making very little of my subject matter,” Mr. Ray stated with a wry smile.

James Rondeau, the president and director of the Art Institute of Chicago and co-organizer of Mr. Ray’s retrospective there, stated that the artist creates “vehicles that pick you up somewhere and drop you off somewhere else.”

“They’re not narrative,” he added. “He’s making figurative sculpture relevant in the present tense, but connecting it to a long continuum of art history.”

Put one other means: It’s sculpture densely full of references, which is why the critic Hal Foster referred to as him “catnip for art historians.”

The public has at instances had a unique response, as have establishments that feared controversy, notably along with his nudes.

Mr. Ray is probably finest recognized for “Boy With Frog” (2009), commissioned by the posh items tycoon François Pinault for the piazza in entrance of the Punta della Dogana, his museum in Venice, however later eliminated. The nude sculpture was beloved by many, however offensive to others — although it’s no naked-er than the topics of artworks everywhere in the metropolis — and locals wished the return of a displaced lamppost there. (A model was put in on the Getty Center due to its echoes with the older artwork inside, and it stays uncontroversially on view on the steps resulting in the principle entrance.)

Even his followers acknowledge that his topics can have unpredictable results on viewers. “People can get stuck with his provocative content,” Mr. Rondeau stated.

That was the case with “Huck and Jim” (2014), impressed by “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” The two bare figures — a black man and a white boy, almost-but-not-quite touching — have been meant to be displayed in entrance of the Whitney Museum of American Art. But it was thought-about too contentious and the museum supplied to maneuver it inside; as a substitute, Mr. Ray withdrew the piece.

“Disappointed is the wrong word,” Mr. Ray stated of his emotions on the matter, although he certain appeared it. He stated he was engaged on a public house for the piece.

Though his earliest section concerned pared-down, Minimal artwork, he first lodged within the public consciousness with works like “Family Romance” (1993), a unadorned nuclear household through which the son and daughter are the identical dimension as Mom and Dad.

“When I was a younger man I was very aware — and perhaps still am today — of a degree of provocativeness carrying a work into a room and grabbing people’s attention,” Mr. Ray stated.

From the beginning, the artwork world has esteemed his work. “He has a complete understanding about the weddedness between conceptual ideas and the world of form, and the way they are integrated,” stated the artist Laura Owens, who first met Mr. Ray some 20 years in the past when he employed her for her first instructing job, at U.C.L.A., the place he ran the sculpture program.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s classical assortment — particularly a Greek kouros, of a unadorned younger man — has lengthy been a supply of inspiration, notably for Mr. Ray’s “Aluminum Girl” (2003), the primary in his sequence of white-painted metallic figures. It is on view on the Met Breuer within the exhibition “Like Life: Sculpture, Color and the Body (1300 — Now).”

Sheena Wagstaff, the chairwoman of the trendy and modern division on the Met and co-organizer of “Like Life,” stated: “The first time I ever visited him in L.A., he was reading Pliny. That’s not your normal studio visit.”

On the day of the foundry go to, Mr. Ray was digging into the small print of his sculptures like a Renaissance carver, although his assistants make the precise marks. He pointed to varied areas on the finely hatched stomach of the canine — on this piece, the canine’s supine vulnerability gave the piece his signature strangeness.

“These are marks from a clay tool; some are natural, but others are like a Japanese comic book, or like a Lichtenstein,” he stated. “They are not randomly sprinkled on there — and that’s what took a long time.”

At lunch in an Irish pub after his foundry go to, Mr. Ray informed considered one of his signature crazy tales about how he despatched a sculpture to a collector “and I sent 12 empty crates along with it. I said the 12 empty crates is the space that goes around it.” He added, “He was totally freaked out.”

It was a joke, or possibly extra of a want, since he advocates plenty of air round his sculpture. For the Matthew Marks present, Mr. Ray unfold three works in a single constructing and, in an adjoining house subsequent door, put in simply two extra.

You might say that Mr. Ray leaves room for the uncanny wherever he goes.

Charles Ray: three rooms and the restore annex
Through June 16, at Matthew Marks Gallery, Chelsea; 212-243- 0200; matthewmarks.com.

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