In his first New York solo, the Belgian artist Peter Rogiers (b. 1967) presented five large-scale sculptures, strange creatures that skitter between the animal and vegetal, abstract and representational. Although the works are rather alarming on first view, their fabulist qualities temper any true sense of malevolence. They are equal parts baroque, futurist, surrealist and kitsch, and incorporate opposing mimetic and invented elements. Tongue-in-cheek, Rogiers disrupts the integrity of the figurative, as faces and limbs (if that’s what they are) emerge in unexpected places.
The artist both exploits and slyly punctures sculptural conventions, so that his works are several times removed from their art historical antecedents. His forbears range from Brancusi to Magritte (what Belgian artist, he asked me, is not influenced by Magritte?), but he also draws upon movies, comic books, fairy tales and pop music. His style is a composite of high and low that reflects the eclecticism of much contemporary art.
We are meant to circumnavigate these sculptures, as with much classical statuary, and when we do, their appearance changes dramatically, offering many surprises. Rogiers strives for the provisional, conveying the impression that his creations have been slapped exuberantly together, wresting metamorphoses out of their fixed materials: stainless steel, aluminum, fiberglass, wood, epoxy and/or acrylic resin. Improvisation and transformation might be his true subjects.
At approximately 9 by 12 by 11 feet, Zilver Fruit (2012), a highlight of the show, is a twisted, bent, shining palm tree of aluminum and stainless steel, bristling with long, spiked leaves sharp as stilettos. Balanced on a base that might be either an overturned rowboat or a scrap of land, the work intimates shipwreck and uncertain oasis. The nuts and bolts that hold it together are quite evident, scintillating with glints of light. The bright, unnatural blue-green of Bootsmann (2008), in the context of the show’s overall silver and gray, snagged the eye. It presents an eerie critter, a bizarre amalgam of several species, including a human with insect-like wings. Might its title refer to Charon, who ferries the dead across the river Styx? It undoubtedly belongs to the realm of mythology. Just as enigmatic and disturbing is The Governess (2009), a birdlike animal with a curious, almost human face, its wings protectively embracing some pointed cactuslike shapes. Despite the sculptures’ ferocity, it’s not hard to succumb to Rogiers’s cleverly crafted, wayward parade of strange beings.
View of Peter Rogiers’s exhibition, showing Zilver Fruit (foreground), 2012, and Bootsmann, 2008; at Galerie Richard.