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Charles Ray at Kunstmuseum Basel and Museum für Gegenwartskunst

Basel

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Charles Ray, Boy with Frog, 2009, painted steel, 96" x 29½" x 41¼". CHARLES RAY/©CHARLES RAY/COURTESY MATTHEW MARKS GALLERY, NEW YORK AND LOS ANGELES/PINAULT COLLECTION

Charles Ray, Boy with Frog, 2009, painted steel, 96″ x 29½” x 41¼”.

CHARLES RAY/©CHARLES RAY/COURTESY MATTHEW MARKS GALLERY, NEW YORK AND LOS ANGELES/PINAULT COLLECTION

his overview of Charles Ray’s sculptural works from 1997 to the present, curated by the museum’s director, Bernhard Mendes Bürgi, stresses their timeless yet contemporary quality. Ray’s recent sculptures focus less on narrative context than on space, weight, and proportion. In Boy with Frog (2009), a larger-than-life nude boy holding a frog by one leg packs the punch of a modern-day David. While figurative in the classical sense, the work’s execution in painted steel and distinctly non-heroic subject place it firmly in the present.

Aluminum Girl (2003) is considered a turning point for the artist, away from his earlier mannequins to more lifelike portraits. Nude, and painted matte white, she seems to emerge from the surrounding space. Sleeping Woman (2012), on the other hand, is overwhelmingly solid. Cast in stainless steel and weighing almost three tons, it captures the artist’s encounter with a woman fast asleep on a bench.

Ray approaches his inanimate subjects with the same attention to detail. For Unpainted Sculpture (1997), he disassembled a smashed-up Pontiac, which he felt retained the presence of its deceased driver, and duplicated each piece in fiberglass to produce a ghostly gray replica of the wreck. These sculptural works are enhanced by being placed in isolation, allowing each one to claim its own space for maximum impact.

A version of this story originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 110.

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