Grace in steel and stone

The Delaware Con­tem­po­rary presents Ori­gins: Rick Rothrock & Stan Smokler’

3 minute read
Luminosity in stone: ‘Synchronous Light Chamber.’ (Image courtesy of Rick Rothrock.)
Luminosity in stone: ‘Synchronous Light Chamber.’ (Image courtesy of Rick Rothrock.)

The Delaware Contemporary launches its 40th anniversary year with an exhibition by Rick Rothrock and Stan Smokler. The two sculptors—both with significant careers and long affiliated with the noncollecting museum—make for an arresting duo. One works in marble and one in steel, two hard and seemingly unyielding media. But entering the long, thin gallery and walking among the 16 works there is like entering a welcoming landscape, with the wind of creativity blowing through.

Each sculptor has eight pieces on display, and their works at first seem greatly contrasting. But though Rothrock and Smokler each carve out and create and comment on space in a different way, both work toward the same end—finding grace in unyielding things and making mass nearly weightless. Spatial elegance lightens both sculptors’ materials, which sometimes seem to transmute even while retaining their properties.

Metal like lace

Smokler, who received an MFA from the Pratt Institute and has taught at Delaware College of Art and Design, is the director of the Marshall Bridge Workshop in Kennett Square. No matter when you visit the museum, you can see one of his works—he was commissioned to fabricate the beautiful door handles on the Wings Auditorium there. Seen across the exhibition, the round wall hanging Landscape (2014) looks like it’s made of lace, until you get close enough to see a poetically interlaced web of gears and daubs of metal that might move at any moment.

Sea Shells (2018) has two curved metal semicircles, one pierced and one solid, that referentially face inward toward each other. And the exhibition’s signature Smokler work, Caged Bounty (2016), might be woven if you didn’t know it was forged. The welded-steel sculpture snakes around itself as if trying to escape, humorous and just a tad disconcerting.

Sinuous stone

One of the Delaware Contemporary’s founding members and its first acting director, Rothrock received an MFA from the University of Delaware. His public artworks are seen throughout the region and the country, and he helped establish the well-known artist collaboration SYNE. Though he works with various kinds of stone, six of the eight sculptures here are marble, which he somehow manages to make sinuous and light, often like folded fabric, as in Disambiguation (2017). The exhibition’s signature Rothrock work is Synchronous Light Chamber (2018), a four-foot-tall twining piece of Vermont marble whose perpendicular veins of soft grey contrast with the luminosity of the preponderant white. Rothrock unexpectedly places two small marble pieces on the sculpture’s base that lovingly refer to the parent piece.

Is ‘Caged Bounty’ woven or forged? (Image courtesy of Stan Smokler.)
Is ‘Caged Bounty’ woven or forged? (Image courtesy of Stan Smokler.)

This exhibition has been thoughtfully curated by Michelle Dao and Kathrine Page. The gallery is just the right size for each work to breathe, but not so big that you miss the visual cross-references. In some of the Rothrock sculptures, the marble bases are slightly and invisibly raised above their display plinths, adding to the feeling of weightlessness. And Smokler’s bronze and steel works are warmed by subtle but effective lighting.

Both sculptors have had long productive careers, but the new work here feels fresh and vibrant. No matter the weather or the wind outside, it’s uplifting and embracing to be in this gallery, where each artist has a palpable presence. Maybe it’s that a room filled with works in three dimensions has an anthropomorphic sense that the two-dimensional does not carry. Or maybe it’s just two sculptors’ artistry, speaking plainly.

What, When, Where

Origins: Rick Rothrock & Stan Smokler. Through April 21, 2019, at the Delaware Contemporary, 200 South Madison Street, Wilmington, DE. (302) 656-6466 or decontemporary.org.

The Delaware Contempoary is an ADA-compliant venue.

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