Each of the little alchemical wonders in Ricky Swallow’s show at Marc Foxx started as a cardboard tube. The Australian-born, L.A.-based Swallow cut, folded and otherwise altered the humble, functional tubes of various diameters, turning them into jaunty tabletop sculptures cast in bronze. Three “Penguin Pots” in soot black stand in ascending sequence, angular handles aimed in one direction, extended beak-like spouts in the other. Two bone-white mugs, both split in half, nest into each other like double parentheses. A cigarette sends up a waft of blue smoke in the shape of a French curve.
The transposition of an everyday object into something else, materially and psychologically, brings to mind Therrien and Gober, as well as the ceci-n’est-pas sly humor of Magritte. Four small, gray top hats, stilled at different points in a windblown tumble, make “Blowing Hats” a stop-motion animated sculpture, one with the bittersweet charm of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton antics. Figures are implied throughout, gracefully distilled into a pair of half-pipe legs or a row of coat buttons.
Swallow dips into an Art Deco idiom when he renders letters and numbers out of snippets of tubing, and elsewhere adopts a sort of Cubist approach to a single subject’s multiple planes. Art historical echoes resound among these works, yet they have distinctive character of their own, a highly appealing mix of modesty, tenderness, elegance and wit.
-- Leah Ollman