Stanley Edmondson at Nicodim

Stanley Edmondson, Stanley’s Circus, Nicodim Gallery; Photo credit Lorraine Heitzman

A Circus to Cheer Us

Nicodim Gallery, Los Angeles
through June 26

Written by Lorraine Heitzman
Stanley Edmondson’s first show with Nicodim Gallery was inspired by Calder’s Circus, a beloved and delightful miniature circus made by the sculptor Alexander Calder. For those who may remember the tableau from the years it was on display in the lobby of the Whitney Museum or have seen a video of the artist performing with his wire figures, there is clearly a direct line from the original to Stanley’s Circus. However, you needn’t know the connection to Calder or his intent in order to appreciate the show. This circus is very much Edmondson’s own carnival.

The most arresting thing about Edmondson’s installation is the unapologetic whimsy of his ceramic sculptures. Some artists have touched on this territory, (Niki de Saint-Phalle immediately comes to mind), but Edmondson’s circus retains the earthy brutalism that characterizes his previous work, and that makes for an interesting mix. In a sense he has weaponized fun, taking simple toy-like shapes and figures and making them monumental and immobile. Edmondson’s larger-than-life sculptures are more totem than toys, oversized reminders of childhood that are both playful and iconic.

In Nicodim’s first floor gallery, two separate figures stand out in the midst of several large planters and sculptures that look like huge board game pieces. One figure is inverted, posing in a clumsy handstand, while the other has his feet planted firmly on the ground with his arms outstretched above his head. Both are anonymous, their faces expressionless, and their bulky limbs are the size of elephant trunks. The performers have assumed acrobatic poses, but they are more in the vein of Keith Haring’s androgynous dancing figures with the added innocence of Gumby. Edmondson is able to make these monochromatic figures playful through their exaggerated postures alone, without relying on the colorful glazes of his other sculptures.

Part of the circus paraphernalia includes a pair of twisted conical sculptures with sphere-like balls balanced on top. Interlocking planes define the three-dimensional form, a building method that seems inspired by notched cardboard constructions. Other props are scattered throughout the installation: rakes, sections of the circus ring, an arch, a spring-like form and an elongated pedestal, perhaps for a circus animal act. The planters are comical; one is a large vessel with cactus growing out of a pair of pants where the torso should be, and in another, a cactus sprouts from a bulbous, highly textured form. Lastly, a scraggly aloe shoots up from a dislocated foot that sits low to the ground. If Phillip Guston were a sculptor and had visited the circus, he may have made something similar.

Included in the main gallery, there is a display of the artist’s platters set against the windows on a riser. These provide a nice segue to Edmondson’s work on the fourth floor where dozens of black and white tabletop ceramic sculptures with accents of yellow, red and blue sit on unfinished plywood pedestals. Like the work downstairs, the work is characterized by their simplicity and crude construction. Although they avoid refined shapes and surfaces, their lack of refinement is not to their detriment, it is their strength. All of Edmondson’s work in Stanley’s Circus benefits from the evidence of their making, the imprint of the hand and the drips of the glaze. There is an honesty to his work which comes from a great synergy between the materials and form, where the inelegance somehow just looks right. These sculptures are full of wonder and humor, and Stanley’s Circus demonstrates Edmondson’s ability to make it all look easy.

Nicodim Gallery
1700 South Santa Fe Avenue #160, Los Angeles, 90021

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