May 2007


Nord Wennerstrom Graham Caldwell

Washington, DC

G Fine Art

pp. 375–376

The sixteen wall-mounted transparent- and silvered-glass sculptures in Graham Caldwell’s recent exhibition “Anatomies” are, variously, dishlike, globular, and spiky and appear inspired by fangs, antlers, and the weird life forms that grow near deep-sea volcanic fissures. They recall the work of Josiah McElheny, Eva Hesse, and Ernesto Neto, melding humor, narcissism, and disorientation with a creeping unease. Caldwell is a skilled glassmaker, as evinced by the work’s refined finish, but unlike Dale Chihuly, he eschews flamboyant colors in favor of black, white, gray, and amber. This restricted palette succeeds in focusing attention on the medium’s inherent optical qualities and underscores the economy and elegance of the forms.


According to Caldwell, the works of “Anatomies” are meant to suggest wild-game trophies, but most—Malocclusus (all works 2007), for example—have little in common with taxidermied heads. Malocclusus features an uneven, mouthlike ring of twenty-two attenuated glass spikes, each up to two feet in length, with tips directed inward. The arrangement suggests an anemone or the spines of an acacia tree, and the implied malevolence is delicious. A Related, untitled work recalls the bony hands of Jack Skellington in Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Several other sculptures, such as Peristalsis, resemble clusters of writhing snakes digesting very large meals but lack punch as wall-mounted works. By contrast, Fovea, a group of mercury-glass monopods topped with concave, saucerlike forms, has a jaunty insouciance.


The two strongest works in the show tackle optics and perception in different ways. Untitled features a tight arrangement of eleven glass orbs cantilevered at various distances from the wall on slender metal supports. Viewed head-on, the dense arrangement creates a hall-of-mirrors effect in which distorted images of the supports bend and flex to create disorienting fluctuations in the visible depth of field. The design is simple; the effect is brilliant. Proprioceptor, an array of flat, convex, and concave circular mirrors mounted on adjustable steel armatures, is sophisticated and provocative. The title refers to a sensory receptor found in muscles, tendons, and the ear which prevents destabilization, while the composition suggests a three-dimensional version of Piet Mondrian’s paintings from the early to mid-1910s, such as Ocean 5, 1915. Seeing oneself in three mirrors at once may satisfy one’s vanity, perhaps, but seeing oneself in forty, each set at a different height and angle, makes one feel watched, intruded on, and, ultimately, threatened. The sensation is naturally unsettling.


In this show, Caldwell wedded deft craftsmanship, lean, efficient forms, and a cheeky, dark sense of humor in works that, at their best, possess genuine authority. The artist cogently probes ideas around narcissism, surveillance, and threat through a nuanced understanding of perception fueled by an evident delight in optics. Most important, he exercises a refined sense of balance and restraint, both in the intent of the work and in its execution.