Six of Barbara Josephs Liotta’s seven recent granite-shard installations at Reyes + Davis featured titles referring to the Pleiades, the seven daughters of Electra and a cluster of stars in the Taurus constellation. With the exception of a seventh (much larger and more horizontal) rock cluster (Poseidon Project Part I), each installation hung at roughly the same horizontal distance from one of the gallery’s two longer walls and occupied an imaginary vertical shaft from ceiling to floor above its invisible footprint of about 10 inches. Because the Pleiades differentiated themselves one from the next only subtly and were separated by repeated intervals, serial form overshadowed content, and any hint of narrative or drama resided within each cluster rather than between them. Aligning the configurations close to the walls subverted their in-the-round identities while playfully transforming the entire installation into a kind of air-infused relief sculpture.
The essentially monochromatic range of each work tells us that, for Liotta, color is secondary. At least one strong light source threw elegantly nuanced shadows from each Pleiade onto adjacent walls or floors. The tonal subtleties surpassed the color relationships in drama and interest. Liotta employs competing archetypes. Broken-off pieces of already polished granite entangle the Promethean reach of man with the hand of a creator-god. Or each pebble on a string could be David’s missile about to be slung at Goliath. They are as likely to be a lapidarian’s raw materials as weapons in a children’s rock-throwing fight.
Poseidon Project Part I, Liotta’s final piece at Reyes + Davis, required its own room to contain a footprint of six by eight feet. Viewers were able to walk around and even through portions of the piece. A tiny child could have tottered about underneath it without ever touching a stone.
The Phillips Collection hosted the most soaring accomplishment of Liotta’s two-part show as part of its Intersections series of contemporary artists. Icarus is a symmetrical, ascending parabola whose smallish rock pairs insinuate a spinal column. Two implied curving planes extend from the spine as wing-like extrusions, formed by Venetian blind cords. The mythical character occupied fully half of its room and invoked Christ’s Descent from the Cross, a magnificent insect in mid- flight, as well as the doomed Icarus. While the vertically inert Pleaides playfully posed questions of existential scale and time, Icarus provided an anti-gravitational counterpoint by dwarfing nature’s power in favor of flawed humanity.