Drawings and Sculptures
Barbara J. Bloemink, Ph.D.

Karin Waisman's art is a conundrum—an enigma of opposites that conjoin to form works of rare intelligence and beauty. Her sculpture, installations, and drawings fuse antithetical concepts such as minimalism and ornamentation, fragmentation and totality, permanence and evanescence. Throughout, the overarching theme and underlying tension in Waisman's work are based on contrasting concepts of mythology, history, and time.

Waisman's sculptural work such as Pythagoras' Failure redefines minimalism through its antithesis—excess. Simple, seemingly indestructible spheres of metal are broken into variously sized fragments that scatter across the floor. Their largely smooth outer surfaces are countered by the rough texture of their interiors. The work's title recalls geometric theorem of perfection, yet the jagged, oddly shaped segments of the sphere imply a disorder and capriciousness totally at odds with the Pythagorean ideal. Nevertheless, each fragment carries within itself traces of the spherical whole that can be reconstructed through active re-assembly or memory.

If aesthetic restraint is embodied in the above-mentioned work, its diametric opposite—dazzling, seductive, irrational ornament—is the visible link tying together the elements of Patience. The title reinforces the laboriousness of the work—an installation of four chairs with elaborate pattern sequentially overlaying their forms. As the fifth element of the installation, Waisman includes a physical manifestation of her process—a pile of the remaining debris created by painstakingly cutting out the lacework. The fragments of paper lying on the ground are evidence of the artist's patience in the work's execution. As the ornamental element grows, the chair erodes. The chairs offer a paradox: Is the most intricately ornamented of the chairs also the least stable and functional?

In Western thought, for centuries the decorative has carried connotations of immorality. In his Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare observed, “The world is still deceived with ornament,” implying that the decorative elements are dangerous as they seduce viewers' eyes with their superficial beauty, hiding true meaning for all but the discerning eye. Often in history, decoration and ornament have been identified with feminine taste and the implied capriciousness of fashion, rather than the male preference which is supposedly for the unchanging, universal, and rational. In Siren 's Beach, Waisman's title recalls the mythical female who mesmerized sailors with beautiful songs, forcing them to crash against the shore and perish. Despite being made of cast aluminum, the sculpture resembles a segment of desiccated land. The fossilized whole has been broken up and cracked into separate pieces that fit together like a complex, interconnecting maze. Within the imperfect whole, spirals imply the infinite permutations of the Fibonacci series that underlies so much of the seemingly random order in the natural world.

The materials that make up Waisman's work are correspondingly paradoxical, vacillating from dense metal to veils of translucent paper. In Double Negation, Waisman casts paper in the form of individual puzzle pieces that fit against a wall to form a large circle. Although barely perceptible, the white on white molded paper is embossed with brocaded surface pattern—the seemingly simple elaborated. The large size of the work plays against our expectations of works on paper as being small and intimate in scale. What is its function? Is the circular puzzle a portion of the wall that is disintegrating or in the process of becoming?

The most ornamental of Waisman's drawings is Evanescence, a word the dictionary defines as “liable to vanish like vapor.” Drawn from an Italian 17th century needlepoint detail, the work comprises several layers of translucent paper, cut to emulate overall patterning of the lace. Stretched across a broad expanse of wall, portions of the three large circular forms overlap, obscuring some details while reinforcing others. With any breeze, the layers of paper sway slightly, changing the visible forms into a palimpsest of elaborated spirals and fleeting designs. The work elicits desire, the sensual pleasure of pure beauty and artifice. If it contradicts the universalism of “less is more,” it does so flagrantly, reminding us that while the universal may have lasting value, the transient is memorable because it can vanish at any moment.


Exhibition List

  1. Path, 1999 cast aluminum, 24" x 130" x 2"
  2. Evanescence II, 1998-99 pencil on vellum, 46" x 80"
  3. Siren’s Beach, 1996 cast aluminum, 58" x 58" x 2"
  4. Evanescence III, 1999 pencil on vellum, 72" x 150"
  5. Patience, 1999 cardboard, 14" x 14" x 28" each
  6. Pythagoras’ Failure, 1997-99 cast aluminum and wire, 29" diameter each
  7. Double Negation, 1998-99 cast paper, 76" x 76" x 1.5"
  8. Evanescence I, 1998-99 pencil on vellum, 68" x 96"
  9. Ghost, 1999 cut paper on mylar, 24" x 18"