NY Times Art Review


ART REVIEW; Objects, Found and Made, Add Up to Sculpture
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THE sculptures of Bascha Mon are energized by opposition. Ms. Mon puts disparate objects together in ways that are at once audacious and subtle, sophisticated and ingenuous, compulsive and calculated. Made of both found and created objects, they are repositories of memories: Ms. Mon’s personal fixed memories, often potently intersecting with the collective memory.

Eleven of her sculptures are currently at Tomasulo Gallery at Union County College here, where they ramble over a gray carpet, lean against the wall or just perch on pedestals. Each work is a fresh challenge, but viewers are also reassured by the presence of several constants. Chief among them are rocks, which have weight and solidity, and mirrors, which convey ephemerality and illusion, and the artist uses this contrast to perpetuate illusion. In the exhibition, real rocks are mixed in with artificial ones, while mirrors are employed to extend a work, make it seem larger than it is or reveal another side of a component part.

Ms. Mon was born and reared in Newark, where her parents ran a store that sold notions, lace and other decorative trimmings, which may play a part in her readiness to embellish everyday objects. The first work a viewer might encounter, and an especially inviting one, is ”Cow Redux,” a stacking of objects culminating in a charcoal drawing of a cow’s head that Ms. Mon made 27 years ago. (Ms. Mon has been a painter most of her career, and recycled two-dimensional work frequently appears in the exhibition.) The drawing is accompanied by a watering can that was her father’s, a manure spreader, a scrap of burlap she found near a cemetery, a metal box in which milk bottles were kept, and a wooden crate holding a shard of red glass from a taillight, a souvenir of a car accident, along with a small smooth wooden dowel that is there ”just for esthetic reasons, to balance the broken glass,” Ms. Mon remarked in a conversation at the gallery.

The transforming event of her life and career, she says, was three weeks spent in Osaka, Japan, in 1991, a result of winning a prize in the Osaka Triennial. She seems to have quickly soaked up Japanese culture and esthetics, an orientation that, she says, is responsible for the contemplative nature of much of her work. The two most extensive works in the show have strong Japanese motifs.

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”Visitors to the Illusory Garden” mimics a rock garden, but the tall, craggy forms and the smooth slabs evoking steppingstones are painted plastic foam. On the slabs are fixed amazingly sharp pictures of manhole covers, the design of which is evidently a high art in Japan. Ms. Mon savors the coexistence of a garden and a sewer, and to complicate the mix further there are several plaster heads, many with antennae and painted with metallic pigments. They result from Ms. Mon’s recent foray into making more conventional sculpture. They have a goofy presence, like space aliens, and certainly jar the contemplative aspect of the rest of the piece.

This garden was to be used last year as the set for a performance piece at Aljira: A Center for Contemporary Art in Newark. The performance never took place, but an antique Japanese umbrella that would have been part of it turns up in ”A Collagist’s Diary: Wandering and Wondering,” an amalgam of objects compactly arranged to resemble a large painting. Indeed, it recalls the work of the 19th-century American painters William Harnett and John Peto, who made convincing trompe l’oeil arrangements of commonplace but often unrelated objects. The nearly closed umbrella is posed against a roof taken from a Japanese doll house. These, along with a sheaf of bamboo, a bamboo stool hung upside down from a rope, and the 1950’s-style shade from a floor lamp that Ms. Mon had in college, turned upside down to become a bowl, are other things to ponder in the crowded work. A picture frame holds a Japanese newspaper, along with recycled drawings, and a clear plastic bag of dead leaves hangs from the frame. One rather grubby plaster head is on the scene as an observer.

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A NOTHER entry from ”A Collagist’s Diary” is an open suitcase, also an artifact from Ms. Mon’s college days, with a round mirror inside the lid. It is filled with a nest of brightly, even garishly colored neckties, along with the tattered remnant of an American flag found near a cemetery. The coiled neckwear is weighed down by a real rock, seemingly to prevent it from slithering away. Ms. Mon uses such an arrangement of ties as a still-life subject in painting classes she teaches at the Hunterdon Museum of Art in Clinton and the New Jersey Center for Visual Arts in Summit.

The smaller works, too, reflect the events, large and small, of Ms. Mon’s life. A viewer senses that Ms. Mon has embarked on a continuing project that can never end. Nor can it be neatened up and fitted into a tight category of art. Many artists enshrine objects from their past, but Bascha Mon’s knack for poetry, and her sense of abandon, set her apart.


Tomasulo Art Gallery

Mackay Library, 1033 Springfield Avenue, Cranford

Through June 18. Hours: Mondays and Saturdays, 1 to 4 P.M.; Tuesdays through Thursdays, 1 to 4 P.M. and 6 to 9 P.M.

(908) 709-7155