Gillian Jagger:
Crossing the River

Trans Hudson Gallery through March 2.

by John Perreault



Gillian Jagger has one sculpture in the Trans Hudson Gallery's "project room," and it is an important work. Her last show was over a year ago at Trans Hudson when the gallery was in Jersey City (whatta schlep, but whatta show!). Unfortunately there was no REVIEW back then, and I had no friendly vehicle for my musings. Trans Hudson has now joined the living with a swell space in the Meat Packing District, or should we now call it Chelsea South? And REVIEW, as experts agree, has saved the day for art writing, and, therefore, for art.

Is one work enough for an exhibition? In this case, yes. It fits the room perfectly. And it should quicken the interest of even viewers new to her masterful work. Cross Cuts, originally made in 1996, and shown at the Katonah Museum, has been adapted to its new environment. Two massive tree trunks, both cut in half lengthwise are suspended from the high ceiling by chains and meat hooks. Jagger has used hooks before, but these are the local meat market variety, and they have an edge of death about them. A trickle of red paint anti- decorates these arboreal carcasses.

What is this work all about? Coupling, pairing, doubling -of course. But also nature and pain. Jagger, I think, will eventually be seen as one of the great ones. I would like to say that she has improved with age. 67? Can this really be true? She doesn't act 67. Where does she get all that bluster and energy?

But when I look back through the catalogue of her mid-career survey (which I curated at Snug Harbor in Staten Island), it is clear to me that the work has always been strong and somewhat difficult to take: from the plaster casts of N.Y. manhole covers in the mid-Sixties; to the tire track casts of the mid-Seventies; to the cast, cracked earth of the Eighties. By 1987, the year of her survey, she was already suspending things. Talahm, 1987, featuring 15-foot lengths of stone strata, weighing at least a ton, nearly pulled down the dome of Snug Harbor's Main Hall. Well, not really; it just looked as if it might. Clever hoisting and suspension techniques (as much the emphasis of thepiece as the actual stone) were designed to make weight float. Twenty-five foot trails of rock strata flowed on the floor in front of the suspended trinity.

Jagger, daughter of Sir Charles Sargeant Jagger who specialized in the war memorials that dot Great Britain -some are quite effective has taken a bit of grandeur from Dad, but memorials are not quite her goal. Her goal seems to be to reinvent sculpture. How modest. Although her works have an object-like, no-nonsense presence about them, they are not exactly minimalist. They have the dark romanticism of a Robert Smithson. She too has a big view of time. But she is much more interested in sculpture as nature and sculpture as body- image.

Her works are not simple. One might think from reading my little description that she was merely equating tree with meat or body, or that wood is to tree as meat is to living flesh. Merely! The meanings fan out. Like all good metaphors and symbols, the underpinnings of Cross Cuts don't quite compute. It is where nonsense and dream intervene against logic that art takes form. But you have to have that tension or you just have style. In this case, it is weight and mass that provides the ballast allowing the imagination to twist in space and dive or soar.

It is not so much that Jagger has improved over the years. I cannot even say that she has evolved. Improve? Evolve? These terms do not apply. What is amazing is that her major sculptures over the years are astoundingly complex and moving. She has continued to work at a fevered pitch and continues to create strong, challenging work. We are talking about Emotion with a capital E; we are talking about Form. We are talking about Art. Jagger is not joking around.

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