New York Times
May 2 2009


Art Review
Sculpture Born of Scissors and Paper


It is hard to define sculpture these days. Artists continue to make
three-dimensional objects, but the range and variety of materials they
employ defy classification. This is enchantingly evident in a show by
the Armenian artist Karen Sargsyan at the Hudson Valley Center for
Contemporary Art.

Mr. Sargsyan, 36, makes figurative sculptures from cut paper. The
works in the current show were created during his stay in Peekskill
last fall as the center's artist in residence. Depending on how you
look at it, the exhibition consists of either hundreds of individual
cut paper sculptures arranged across the mezzanine gallery or a single
installation made up of many parts.

Immediately eye-catching is a figure trailed by a black dog on the
landing outside the show's entrance. The figure is leaning over the
railing, looking down at the galleries below. Both dog and figure are
intricately constructed from layers of colored paper and are
remarkable for their playfulness and dynamism; from certain angles, it
looks as if the dog is getting ready to bite the man's bottom.

Dominating the exhibition is the sculpture of an outsize figure sunken
into a collapsed throne with a scepter across his right leg. He is a
king, or at least has the trappings of royalty. To his left is a
kneeling knight, while surrounding him is a group of jesters who seem
to be performing for his entertainment. It is a theatrical scene
reminiscent of baroque paintings of life in princely courts.

Especially interesting about this grouping of figures is the way in
which each of them is engaged in some sort of dramatic gesture, highly
suggestive of movement, yet frozen in space and time. I like this
tension, for it invites deeper contemplation of the symbolism of the
scene. Why is the king sacked out on the floor? Has he been deposed
and is living in exile? Are these additional figures that surround him
all that remain of his once loyal and devoted subjects?

Viewers looking for guidance on how to interpret this installation
will find little relief in the oblique title, `Abroad Understanding.'
Nor is there an exhibition catalog or brochure to narrow things down a
little. Still, clues can be found in the work itself. The clothes on
the figures appear frayed, even chewed up or eaten away, suggesting
that the king has been out of power for some time. He and his
entourage are living in exile.

You might also notice that the expressions on the faces of several of
the figures are strained, suggesting feelings of suffering and
pain. That Mr. Sargsyan can convey pathos in paper is indicative of
his tremendous skill with scissors, and no doubt why in 2007 he won
the Netherlands's prestigious Thieme Art Award, given annually to a
promising young artist, and is being heralded as a rising art world
star.

Mr. Sargsyan, who lives in Amsterdam, originally worked in clay, later
moving to paper. It was a smart decision, for while there are numerous
contemporary artists working with ceramics, no contemporary
international artist that I can think of makes work on this scale
using slivers of cut paper. It helps him stand out from the crowd ' in
the same way that colorful Styrofoam sculptures distinguish Folkert de
Jong, another well-known young Dutch artist.

But that is where the comparison ends, for the two artists have
different sources of inspiration. Whereas Mr. de Jong is interested in
political issues and history, Mr. Sargsyan is interested in
theatricality and process.

Littering the floor around Mr. Sargsyan's figures are bits and pieces
of scrap paper, several preparatory sculptures of human faces and
limbs, along with paper renditions of scissors and a tape
dispenser. By not cleaning up the gallery the artist invites us to see
the space as a studio, as a laboratory for ideas, and the artwork as
an active, changing work in progress.

The artist's choice of material raises obvious questions about the
durability of his installations, since paper tends to discolor, sag
and even degrade over time, especially when exposed to light and
moisture. But Mr. Sargsyan uses a special kind of heavy-duty archival
paper, much like that used as a support for drawings and paintings. He
believes that with good care, these sculptures can last forever.

`Karen Sargsyan: Abroad Understanding' Hudson Valley Center for
Contemporary Art, 1701 Main Street, Peekskill, through May
24. Information: (914) 788-0100 or hvcca.org.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/03/nyre gion/westchester/03artwe.html