Sam Perry: Clew at Rena Bransten Gallery


Sam Perry: Clew at Rena Bransten Gallery

By J.Z. Wyckoff November 21, 2019

Upon seeing the twisted and fissured wooden sculpture stationed outside Sam Perry: Clew at Rena Bransten Gallery, there’s a word on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t quite find it. It refuses me, and for an hour it haunts me. And yet, I have the feeling that when it comes—as often happens when you finally retrieve the word you have been pining for—soon will follow the creeping sense that the word doesn’t live up to all the hype. In this instance, it was fitting that the word wouldn’t come, for as Paul Valéry wrote, “Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees.”1

Sam Perry. Sam Perry: Clew, 2019; installation view (entrance), Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco. Courtesy of Rena Bransten Gallery. Photo: Charlie Villyard.

Mobius, as in Mobius strip, was the word I was searching for to describe the sculpture’s ribbonlike simplicity. But right away it seemed inadequate, oversimplifying. Perry’s forms, each of which come from a single stump or log sourced from Runnymede Sculpture Farm in Woodside, California, defy even the most elegant geometry, and therefore they defy fixed terms. But since we’ve conjured a Mobius strip, for better or worse, think of two of them doing the tango.

Still, we’re only at the exhibition’s entrance. Inside there’s a crowd, but not of people. Of tango dancers. Wood figures that say, “Watch where you’re going, we’re in the middle of class.” The space is a bramble of unvarnished oak and yet each element seems as soft as fettuccini. Such food analogies are not something Perry shies away from. He clearly likes to play, calling one piece D.Q. (2018), as in Dairy Queen. But again, it’s more like two soft-serve ice cream cones engaged in a Scottish reel. Butterfly Supernova (2019), a yo-yo-like piece with seeming nods to Anish Kapoor and Lee Bontecou, is a title that begins to capture the movement in this show. For what happens here with this work is indeed about movement, but there is also a stillness; a quietude that makes you glad you’re speechless—stumped by that word on the tip of your tongue—because it would be a shame to short circuit the seeing, the awe at material, at form, hewn.

Sam Perry: Clew was on view at Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco, CA through November 2, 2019.


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  1. Valéry’s line became associated with Robert Irwin after Lawrence Weschler used it as the title for a book about Irwin.

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