Contributed by Jonathan Stevenson / “Sharp Edges,” Ben Godward’s mischievously minatory exhibition of sculpture at Slag Gallery, which owner and curator Irina Protopopescu has returned to Chelsea from Bushwick, combines his signature energy and a new urgency. Joyfully petulant color imparted a sidelong élan to his early urethane resin forms that he has never fully relinquished. With his 2016 show at Slag, he gained discipline and focus, channeling his native insouciance into more compact painting-sculpture hybrids. But through the pour, in particular, he let them retain a degree of freewheeling randomness, deliberately leaving their final manifestation somewhat open-ended. Now Godward may feel that it’s best to leave less to chance.
Deployed beyond two rooms of Hermann Nitsch’s grandly lurid though hardly dismal paintings – which could be construed as suggestive context – Godward’s thin, bright wedges of color are mounted on slightly larger black wedges, which serve to anchor and direct them. Significantly, all but one sculpture is situated outside and notionally unrestrained. They could be drill bits or missiles, pointed straight down to auger into the ground, or slanted upward to hit a distant target. In contrast with his 2016 work, they are spare, hard-edge, unequivocally three-dimensional, and forbidding. It’s easy to imagine the pieces as maquettes for larger work with an unambiguously baleful presence.
In addition to their modest size, what still leavens Godward’s sculptures is their raucous color. A cheery orange is heavily represented. One presumed projectile, aimed cheekily towards the building itself, distinctly conjures a rainbow Popsicle, which couldn’t do concrete much damage after all. Owing to the contrapuntal resonances of austere shape and extravagant hue, Godward’s missiles are on balance disquieting, a little short of threatening. They track neatly with a world in simmering and frequently absurd crisis, in which there is less room for play but by the same token an undeniable need for it. Fight and dig, Godward might be saying, but please keep your sense of irony and, perhaps above all, your sense of humor.
“Ben Godward: Sharp Edges,” Slag Gallery, 522 W. 19th Street, New York, NY. Through June 5, 2021.