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Washington, DC

Sculpture Magazine June 2000

Greg Hannan Numark Gallery Greg Hannan’s show “Commuter” stimulated a nexus of feelings and ideas. The objects he uses to create his sculptures aren’t just found. They are abandoned, alienated, and stripped of their original functions. The countless voices and unseen hands of their former lives impregnate the silent stillness of the gallery. Where they came from exactly and where Hannan has them going remain enigmatic. Recurring images of a puzzle or a game, however, suggest that the task of finding definite solutions defies logic and calculation. The word “commuter” has come to denote some horrible things, even rage, violence, and death. In its most basic sense, it signifies someone or something that is changing, that is in transition. As a verb, it has the additional meaning of reducing a sentence or serving as a substitute. Energy lies at the core of the concept. The show explores a broad range of energy expressions Commuter Study #3, one of the simplest (but not simplistic) displays a row of six wooden hat blocks on individual shelves. Their physical presence is palpable. Hannan has left the original serial numbers intact. Their palette, though worn, comprises richly nuanced brown, grays and blues. Starting at the left, their shapes go from a mushroom cap to a simple (even Minimalist by contemporary critical taste) mound. Beyond the work’s formal clarity and beauty, the configuration suggests a row of living memorials to anonymous, everyday heroes. The work may also hearken back to Commuter Study #1 (1996), a hat- shaped composition carved from laminated cubes. Inspired by a dream of a hat washing ashore with numbers on it, the sculpture was the first is a series to explore movement in time using a figurative archetype. The absent human also informs ominous Metem Study 31, which features a salvaged infant-sized see – saw on a wall-mounted platform. One side is painted red, the other white. Again a simple shape yields rich and divergent associations: a lost childhood, opposing ideologies, a balance, a reckoning or a boundary to be crossed.
In several works, an abacus serves to suggest a calculating or tracking device. Hannan constructed the frames out of found wood and used discarded gaming balls as the counting units. At first, these sculptures seem hard to fathom. Their weathered textures and hues emit an elegiac beauty devoid of nostalgia. Then an apparent color coding and titling come into play: between Two Men and Progeny (blue) (Red) (Green) and (Yellow). In the more saturated Between Two Men, the space created by the vertical divider evokes the isolation of commuting, while in the Progeny series, color symbolism as a means to address genetics and the transmission of traits is more pronounced. Reading from top to bottom, variations in the balls’ age echo a person’s increasing wear and tear from experiencing life’s vicissitudes. The show becomes more figurative with Filter, a sack-like sculpture with a cinched waist carved from laminated cubes of treated wood. The energy level of this work is deeply disturbed but contained. The cuts into the wood, while recalling the highly dramatic folds of Baroque or Hellenistic sculpture, are not violent hackings. Further, the writhing patterns of the grain and variations in color are held in check by the grid outline of the laminated blocks. Beyond suggesting a vessel of unknown and trapped content, the work assumes the demeanor of a headless torso, a stand-in perhaps for the artist himself. The gnome-size figures of Commute Study #2 – Melon Thief, Pierrot and Commuter represent the most obviously charged sculptures. Much of their power comes from the skillful carving that brings the characters to life. All three are hunched over as though battling the elements and perched on top of pedestals that bring them to eye level. At the head, Commuter wears a raincoat and fedora and carries a sack slung over his shoulder. His face looks as though it lost its features in a car wreck. The grimacing Pierrot also bears a sack and sports the ruffled-collar costume and cone-shaped hat of his French namesake. The Melon Thief, a reference to a Japanese Noh play, is decapitated, carrying a ball that suggests his head and the burden of history. Their tragic march forward eerily recalls Pieter Brueghel’s painting of three blind men trudging through a snowy scene during the plague. Despite the overwhelming pain conjured by Hannan’s figures, one apprehends that they, along with their attributes and belongings , are progressing, not doomed like Sisyphus to repeat the same track over and over again. What stands out about this show, and Hannan’s work in general, is that it represents an accumulative language of simple shapes, which in his hands is capable of tackling fundamental concepts like reincarnation. As in Joseph Cornell’s boxes, a sense of purpose and organization tempers their aura of mystery.  Possessed by an intelligent grace, his work avoids the clutter that found-object assemblage often suffers. One of art’s strength is to make us look at something taken for granted in a new light. In this endeavor, Hannan is a master. Even if the ultimate significance remains elusive and triggers frustration, that too is a state we have to learn to live with, especially in a commuter society. - Sarah Tanguy
Hannan Greg