By THOMAS MOODY
Can movement be represented in a static object? Or can the underlying structures of nature — with its paradox of constancy and constant change — be expressed in sculpture? These are just two of the questions that Jorge Palacios’ remarkable work poses, now on view at the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City.
The Noguchi is a brilliant setting in which to see Palacios’ work. Nine pieces are placed throughout the ground-floor galleries and garden, curated to be in dialogue with the museum’s collection. It is a fascinating exchange: Though Noguchi’s and Palacios’ work often occupy similar conceptual spaces, as the two artists explore and interrogate ideas of unity achieved through composites, the form these concepts take are compelling in their distinctions. Palacios works in wood, often engineered wood, and one of his aims is for the medium to regain the integrity of its origins. The exhibition’s companion piece, Link, a giant public sculpture measuring 13 feet high by 10 feet wide in Manhattan’s Flatiron Public North, is designed to last 500 years, the lifespan of certain long-living trees.
Palacios’ sculptures have been widely shown in public spaces, including in front of the Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial in Madrid, and in New York, where in 2015 he exhibited Sketch in the Air. Though the works on view in the Noguchi are smaller in scale than those on public view, the wonder they produce is not diminished. The Singularity of the Curve — a striking piece constructed of sheets of bamboo plywood, in which two partitions are connected by a long sphere that seems to be pulling the objects together — makes visible the eternally unseen: the force of attraction, the gravitational pull between two bodies. Okiagari-Koboshi, a swan-like kinetic sculpture, puts mass in to motion. Named after the traditional Japanese dolls that cannot be knocked down, the immense 600-pound sculpture can be rocked to the very precipice of falling, only to spring upward to its base.
Beyond the beauty of Palacios’ sculptures — and there is much beauty to admire — what is striking about the work is the sheer engineering achievement, and how this achievement is disguised as effortless, almost elementary. Balance and Inertia, a thin, globe-like object over six feet in diameter with a circled hole cut from its bottom right-hand side, immediately impresses on a purely esthetic level. The dark teakwood and smooth, rounded shape is both calming and meditative to the eye. But as one begins to investigate the piece further, one realizes that the globe is a composite of small individual squares, and that it is not sitting straight on its axis, but leaning back, tilted as if in the process of falling, or rising. The work illustrates much of what Palacios is about: capturing motion in a fixed position, demonstrating that all objects are coalescences of smaller parts, and that beauty is not the goal of his work, but the achievement of the process. Palacios’ sculptures highlight the relationship between the complex and the simple, and the reality that what appears most basic is in fact distinctly intricate.
Miles Davis once defined excellence as the ability to make the complicated appear simple. Palacios, a fan of jazz, can be proud to have achieved such excellence.