The shape of things

Form, function, and abstraction blend in sculptor Anthony Wright's new show

In the gallery's large back room, Wright's "Gallery 414 Based on 24-foot" is a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling showstopper. At the front of the work are wooden rails set at an angle, suggesting a broken split-rail fence or a mangled highway barrier. The piece's backdrop is a large, continuous wall of smooth Styrofoam, painted in three shades of cool, battleship gray in bold, geometric shapes that move the viewer's eye back and forth across the scene. Narrow triangles of color disguise flat boards. One piece of the assemblage is an arc based on a 24-foot circle. Wright's color scheme and the eye-confusing graphics are hallmarks of "dazzle" camouflage, a technique developed by the Navy. "People are familiar with jungle camouflage with green and brown biomorphic shapes and patterns," Wright says. "Dazzle camouflage was used on ships and sometimes on planes. If you saw a ship at a distance, painted this way, you couldn't tell what kind of ship it was." Wright says it's a little-known fact that artists who found themselves in the military were enlisted to design and paint camouflage. "This dazzle technique breaks up the pattern so that observers who saw a ship on the horizon couldn't tell what direction it was going, or what kind of ship it was, so they couldn't launch attacks effectively."

The effect of Wright's installations is more soothing than sinister, but the flat, orderly precision of the work limits a viewer's emotional response. That's on purpose, he says, and references the constructivist movement's fondness for simple, pure abstraction. But, particularly in the smaller works, like "Tableaux Series," Wright's square tubes, box, and chimney shapes against flat, dark sheets of steel look like models for avant-garde theater sets or some Cubist's accidental landscape. "A lot of it is landscape-based," Wright says. "What I see driving around is fences, overpasses, and guardrails. I don't want to say that they're strictly representing X or Y. I'm using the linear stuff to move your eye back and forth."

Continuing the camouflage theme, Wright installed three small, all-white sculptures on waist-high columns against all-white walls. One of the pieces is framed by ascending rectangular boxes. "I wanted to give a sense of compression," he says. "These allow me to look at the idea of dealing with a niche." He built the three white pieces in one week. "I don't sketch them out, and I don't see them until I start working," Wright says. "I'll cut out a shape, put together a structure, and then start building on that. It's real intuitive stuff." The constructions are more stable than they look. "I have a fascination with architecture, drawings, and floor plans," Wright says. He first learned welding and metal work in shop class in high school.

Thanks to a technique derived from the military's "dazzle" camouflage, you can't be sure what you're seeing in an Anthony Wright installation.
Thanks to a technique derived from the military's "dazzle" camouflage, you can't be sure what you're seeing in an Anthony Wright installation.

Wright admits that installations as an art form limit the artist's potential for commercial success. Over his 15-year career, he's had countless solo shows around Texas and has garnered a small, solid group of patrons who collect his work. He was represented by Glen Lane's Modern Dallas Art Gallery until Lane's death, and was selected for the Modern Art Museum's "Metal and Stone: Six Young Sculptors" show in 1991, back when the Modern made more of an effort to showcase local contemporary art. The museum still collects work by local artists, but rarely mounts a local exhibition these days. Maybe Tadao Ando's inspirational building will change all that; and, with more exhibition space, maybe the Amon Carter can focus on local contemporary painters and photographers. Maybe the Kimbell will use its undeveloped acreage to construct a venue for contemporary art. When Fort Worth's museums unveil their new façades over the next couple of years, maybe there will be renewed commitment to the artists who truly build a city's cultural climate. As surely as form follows function, a museum must support the community that sustains it; and, with bigger buildings, surely there will be more room for local art.

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