José Sierra at Gerald Peters Contemporary

03/23/2020

The following review appeared in Artforum in March 2020.

In his latest body of work, José Sierra presents thirteen large anthropomorphic vessels that combine sculpture, painting, and ceramic techniques. Their varying surface textures and distilled vocabulary of geometric marks and colors (saturated lemon yellows, pinks, lime greens, and cobalt blues pattern dark gray and black surfaces) evoke the paintings of Surrealists, including Wifredo Lam and Joan Miró. But Sierra extends their language into three dimensions, exploring how an abstract lexicon can negotiate a form. He adds volume to the exteriors of his wheel-thrown creations via concave depressions, holes that punch through planes, strange appendages, and voluptuous curves that sit like fat on a human waist. These idiosyncratic elements resist stable gender associations, reading alternately as phalluses, fingers, and tongues. For example, two glazed yellow dots on Untitled (021) (all works 2019) look like nipples or eyes, depending on where you stand. They pop against a coal-black background, under which fits a bright red concave sphere. A red column sticks out of the sphere’s center, suggesting a phallus, a clitoris, or a tongue in a fishlike mouth. Unlike many works in the show, Untitled (021) is sealed at the top; it refuses access to its interiority.

The success of these objects derives partly from their ability to inspire the viewer’s bodily empathy, even as the works remain delightfully alien, abstract, inaccessible, and vulgar. In Untitled (019), the hard skin of the pot seems as if it has been pulled back in places to reveal fluffy-looking coils reminiscent of intestines or insulation. When they are visible, the insides of the vessels are glazed, some in a dark pond green, and their bulbous folds and indentations show the inverse of their facades. It is fitting that those spaces, like the untitled titles, are empty, insisting on their sufficiency independent of possessions or identifications.