Bringing the Beach to Lincoln Center

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The New York Sun

New Yorkers who forgo the pleasures of the seashore in favor of the Mostly Mozart festival might feel that Nancy Rubins’s exuberant sculpture, “Big Pleasure Point,” installed by the Public Art Fund at Lincoln Center, is making gentle fun of their decision.

Ms. Rubins constructed her sculpture from a mass of old boats, canoes, kayaks, and other light vessels, ingeniously suspended overhead on a steel column and held in place by suspension wires. Mingling with the sounds of the nearby fountain, the second-hand boats — many salvaged from the Pleasure Point Marina in Big Bear Lake, Calif., and still bearing the rental imprint on their hulls — seem to have that faint summery smell of salt and sand. The cumulative kinesthetic effect puts you in mind of the beach.

Yet surreally stranded vessels could have sinister associations. After viewing Vice-President Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” with its predictions of a submerged Manhattan, “Big Pleasure Point”could be interpreted as a grim prophecy.And boats thrown into the air could take on the same out-of-element grimness as the forlorn fishing fleets on Kazakhstan’s dried-out Aral Sea.

Still, the connotations of Ms. Rubins’s sculpture are mostly light and airy, chirpy and positive. The overall structure is birdlike, with the mass of individual boats reading like feathers.

A similar mood pervades Ms. Rubins’s delightful, oversize collages on the same theme as the sculpture, on view at Chelsea’s Paul Kasmin Gallery. The boats read like spiky petals on an exotic flower. This sunny disposition epitomizes California, you might think, but it is at odds with the style and temper of the Californian avant-garde, of which she is very much part.

Californian artists from Edward Kienholz to Mike Kelley and Paul Mc-Carthy have used appropriated, castoff materials to cast a dark view of life. Ms. Rubins is married to the veteran performance artist Chris Burden (most famous for having himself shot), and together they taught for some two decades at the UCLA art department, resigning when a student mimicked Mr. Burden’s firearm antics in class.

Ms. Rubins has used industrial and commercial goods throughout her career, but to different aesthetic ends. She maintains the look, shape, and feel of her chosen objects without inheriting their psychological or political baggage. The results are as much, therefore, of an iconographic as a physical balancing act. Connotations of waste, loss, lack of control, disaster even, are there, but held in check. It is as if the sculpture cries out “Hold that thought,” and supplies other, more felicitous, abstract sensations of flight and pleasure.

Ms. Rubins takes her boats at they come: Neither tarted up nor neutralized, they are a like an unaffectedly natural floral arrangement in their mix of brash, synthetic plastics (red, turquoise), pleasingly distressed painted woods, trade logos (“Malibu Two XL”), and harbor registrations.

“Big Pleasure Point” is a feat of engineering. In the dense cluster of dozens of vessels, each craft retains its totality. There isn’t the sadistic crushing you get in the violins of the late Arman, for instance, or the mangled corpses of John Chamberlain’s assemblages of auto parts.This is an exhilarating mass of detail and clustering of effects, but everything remains clean,legible,and apparent. It is skillfully engineered, but you can see how everything is done, the soldering of the supporting diagonal column, the wires holding everything together. This retention of wholeness in the midst of displacement and collision lends the work a satisfying complexity.

“Big Pleasure Point” until September 4 (Broadway, between 62nd and 65th Streets). Collages until August 18 (511 W. 27th Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, 212-563-4474).

The New York Sun

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