ROBERT GARRETT, BOSTON SUNDAY HERALD, SEPT. 12, 1976, P.A25
“CHECK OUT THIS POETRY OF HARDWARE, LIGHTS”
For most of us, there is no poetry in replacing a light bulb, and anything more complicated – the world of electrical wiring, junction boxes, conduits and cold cathodes – is a fearsome technology devoid, it goes without saying, of human emotion.
Along comes Christopher Sproat, a Museum School graduate, to tell us differently.
Sproat was one of the artists forced out of his studio by the disastrous Jamaica Plain factory fire earlier this year, and most of his possessions (including tools and notebooks) were destroyed.
And so, the current show at MIT’s Hayden Gallery is a personal victory just in its coming to be. Beyond that, it represents a real budding of his ideas.
Imagine a Pop artist using electric tubing and hardware “Eat at Joe’s” would be scrawled in neon across the gallery wall and you have imagined the opposite of a Chris Sproat. Sproat’s messages are spoken quietly, in a language of geometric shapes and carefully arranged linear elements.
In fact, a couple of years ago when Sproat exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, the constructions were so quiet as to hardly exist. Fastidiously crafted tubing and hardware failed to communicate much of anything.
Here, Sproat meets the viewer halfway. Each of the six pieces is “readable,” in the sense of revealing a definite (though not always easily definable) mood. If Sproat’s work before was esoteric and constrained, these are accessible without losing their subtlety.
One of the strengths of “Made in Hayden” as the exhibit is titled, is that the six pieces were created specifically for this space. There is a consistency to this environment – the similar materials that are used, the subdued geometric shaped drawings that serve as backdrop, the low lighting which contributes to a meditative atmosphere and helps us focus our attention.
Some of these pieces are literal metaphors. In “Loom,” wires are deployed in lyrical flourishes, looping in cascades from glowing vertical tubes like fabric on a magical weaving device. The loom, in this case is made of steel and lighting fixtures fastened to a black background. The literal meaning is there, but not entirely necessary, because as an abstract configuration “Loom” has an odd brooding sort of beauty of its own.
Again, in “December,” we have a choice between metaphor and a physical appearance, which has its own appeal. Against a large rectilinear backdrop drawn in chalk onto the wall, six slender neon tubes are placed in such a way that they appear to be falling, like incandescent toothpicks. Below, in a tight parallel formation, a series of tubes are penned in by wire and black boxes.
The upper portion of “December” is a dazzling visual treat, contrasting the uniform and constricted arrangement below. As pure design it intrigues. But further, we may see in it a statement about the contradictory nature of mid-winter, the closed- in feeling versus promise of spring, a cold glow vs. a pristine exuberance.
Or, we may extrapolate further into the realm of human experience and talk about the intense joy, say, of a quietly religious person. Such interpretations can be carried too far, but it is a tribute to Sproat’s ability that he engineers something evocative out of the commonplace. In ‘Mantis,” Sproat allows his transformers and steel tubing to consort with reality, constructing a giant insect with an incandescent light for a head. This witty little piece has a companion and structure a -“Home of Mantis”- every good figment (filament?) of the imagination deserves a home.
These pieces would seemingly be limited to a gallery situation- an abstract painting can hang in a building or home, but Sproat’s work is of a specialized, art for art nature.
However, after the show closes on October 3rd one of the sculptures will be installed somewhere on the MIT campus, through the efforts of the university’s adventurous committee on the visual arts. Watch out, world; watch out for this poetry of hardware and lights.