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Art review: Ian Barry's 'The White' at Michael Kohn is abstract yet functional

August 23, 2013|By Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times Art Critic
  • Ian Barry, "The White," 2013, mixed media.
Ian Barry, "The White," 2013, mixed media. (Christopher Knight/Los…)

The more that Ian Barry fabricates motorcycles from scratch, the more arresting they become. Shedding the legacy of a customized bike, in which a manufactured machine gets tailored, “The White” asserts its abstract sculptural properties without losing its functional beauty.

At Michael Kohn Gallery, Barry is showing “The Kestrel” (2010) and “The Black” (2011), two earlier handcrafted motorcycles, together with the recently completed “The White.” The names come from types of falcons, and looking at the newest one it’s hard not to think of Brancusi’s sleek “Bird in Space.”

Except for the engine and two tires, the artist built the motorcycle from the ground up, fender to handlebar. The sense of abstraction as it relates to bodily shape, the requirements of aerodynamic motion and an urge toward extreme visual pleasure pushes to the foreground.

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Mostly monochromatic, produced in a variety of silvery shades and textures depending on the forged metal (aluminum, nickel, stainless steel, titanium, etc.), and accented with occasional brass fittings and black rubber, “The White” is both masculine and feminine. A power machine fuses with the polished refinement of an Elsa Peretti jewelry design.

The sculptural quality, reminiscent of mimetic work by Charles Ray and Jorge Pardo, is partly emphasized by the use of a pedestal, which is different from those that elevate Barry’s two earlier bikes. Here, a slim tapered cone lifts the motorcycle off the floor. The cone recalls the funnel used in a lost-wax casting process; even though it might not have been employed to make this object, it implies an ancient legacy of industrial manufacture for both art and functional objects.

Barry has also made flat, wall-mounted display boxes of raw materials — metal shavings, modeling foam, oil, industrial clay, etc. But simply framing production elements doesn’t add much. The wall works seem undernourished, especially when “The White” is so rigorous.


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