Celeste Roberge at Aucocisco

Art in America  |  Carl Little  |  2007-06-03

A graduate of the Portland (now Maine) School of Art and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and a former fellow at the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe, Celeste Roberge made her first major statements in sculpture in the late 1980s. Monumental pieces such as Rising Cairn (1989), a kneeling figure formed of 4,000 pounds of granite beach stones girdled in bands of galvanized steel, provoked a critical buzz. Since then, solo shows around the country have confirmed the sharpness of her conceptual vision, which has encompassed what the artist refers to as “cultural sedimentation.”

In her first show at Aucocisco, Roberge continued her explorations of layering while reducing the scale of her work from sculptures like Rising Cairn and her “Stacks” of shale and slate that often measure some 4 feet high by 6 feet long. Among the 14 sculptures in the show (all 2005 and 2006) were a series of 11 “miniatures” that consist of narrow stacks of materials– stone, metal, wood– topped by small toy chairs. The taller pieces were displayed on floor bases, the rest on cantilevered wall mounts.

In Copper and Slate Stack, neat squares of copper, slate and plywood are arranged in repeated order, rising 17 inches from the ground. The layers of material suggest geologic strata. Perched precariously on the top like an eccentric throne is a miniature armchair in a 1950s “modern” style, its seat filled with a ball of copper solder.

Eight of the stacks pay tribute to modern masters: Meret Oppenheim, Alberto Giacometti, Yayoi Kusama, Donald Judd, Eva Hesse and Joseph Beuys. Fur Covered Chair for (Meret Oppenheim) is a 19-by-¼-by- 2-inch construction of plywood and mahogany obscured by fur. In Piano Stack (for Beuys), a miniature baby grand covered with felt is set on a handsome 47-inch-tall pedestal of wood and copper. These appropriations elicit a knowing smile, while the meticulous craft of the miniature constructions conveys something of Roberge’s own sensibility.

The sculptural inventions contrast with three “mountains,” crag like forms of a more homemade appearance that have miniature chairs atop their peaks. Inspired by the distinctive shape of Mont St.-Michel on France’s Normandy coast, these plaster and Hydrocal objects rise a bit over a foot in height and are accented with basalt, slate, textiles and metal. The show also featured a dozen gouache, watercolor and ink drawings with gold and copper leaf, graphite and collage elements. Related to the sculptures, they add another dimension to the work: the plotting of enticing ideas.