For over 20 years, Evan Holloway's revisionist take on the modernist sculptural lexicon has become an indelible feature in Los Angeles’s cultural imagination. The works on view in Evan Holloway: Outside are explorations of light and materiality, intimacy and monumentality, and the ever-evolving line between abstract formalism and the ritual, esoteric, and social roles played by sculpture throughout the centuries.
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This online exhibition documents the installation of these sculptures in the gallery’s new outdoor courtyard, and features examples from two distinct bodies of work. Included are the two latest of the artist’s Möbius-strip-like aluminum sculptures, whose twisted, looping volumes hold sticks of incense that, when lit, create their own curving, shifting—and scented—shapes in the air. These works are seen alongside a bronze sculpture, totemic in form, whose sides are studded with casts of spent batteries.
Both types have deep roots in Holloway’s project, which emerged from the theory-and-critique-heavy scene of the 1990s with a then-provocative—and sui generis—emphasis on modernist aesthetics, esoteric spirituality, and the ancient, even primal, function of sculpture as a collective endeavor. An important part of his position was, and continues to be, his insistence on producing objects in a DIY, hands-on fashion. Even when working in bronze, he forgoes the use of maquettes and miniatures, and manipulates his materials at scale before casting them.
“The lens of reading everything through post-war art is just another lens.”
Holloway has since been proven prescient; his concerns are now shared by an increasing number of younger artists. As the timber of the cultural discourse has changed over the last few years, he has begun to experiment with outdoor installations, which provide him with new formal and material challenges, but also pose questions about how and where sculpture is located in the imaginative, social, and physical landscapes.
“At their most simple level, all my sculptures are saying, ‘Hey, you’re here, and you’re having an exchange with another material form, and reading it with your material body, your material physical equipment.’ That’s a magical act. It’s about intention. You came to stand in front of this thing. What’s it doing? What are you doing?”
These questions come into focus in Watery Part of Air and Air/and (both 2021), whose titles provide clues to the elemental considerations at stake in their making. Created from aluminum that responds with subtle gradations of reflectivity and shadow as the sun moves through the sky, the works are both elegant and mystifying. As the eye traces each loop, moving into and out of its interior and exterior surfaces, it beckons the entire body to become involved in an up-and-down motion that evokes the circulation of fluids and metaphysical energies alike.
While in earlier iterations Holloway used small rivets to accentuate the holes that hold the incense sticks, here he has formed small, volcano-like protrusions that give them added visual lift. The true formal magic, though, is found in the correspondences between the sculptures and the smoke that perfumes the air around them, tracing ephemeral shapes subject to the movements of the breeze.
“Incense is part of the mood equipment of religion and ceremony. I’m not hiding from that. These don’t have to have an ironic stance. I see them emerging out of that irony, and that irony in turn falling away.”
Magic is an operative word on several levels. Holloway’s sculptures conjure material and perceptual magic; they are also informed by his interest in the mystical arts as practices with long histories and their own interpretive frameworks. This can take shape in the works in literal ways—numerology, for instance, has been a generative factor in many sculptures, including earlier incense loops—as well as poetic or associative ones that expand their reach beyond the parameters of contemporary art per se.
“If we look at medieval artwork, we don’t have a context to fully comprehend how it was originally engaged. But we can still engage with things we don’t fully understand—that’s part of being a contemporary person. There’s both skepticism and belief.”
Similarly, situating his work in outdoor contexts gives Holloway the opportunity to observe how his own intentionality intersects with larger forces beyond his control, and how changing conditions can alter even the most monumental or permanent of forms. Perfected Success (2019) is a case in point. What at first might seem like a minimalist exercise in starkly linear geometry quickly reveals a highly animated “skin” of appendages, each of which defines its own delimited area of luminosity and mass. As close inspection makes plain, these appendages are, in fact, casts of batteries; and while actual spent batteries are no longer part of the work, they play an initial role in the production of the molds into which bronze is eventually poured.
Perfected Success is a monument, then, to discarded things and resourcefulness, to the life cycle of human-made products and thereby, given the state of environmental crisis in which we find ourselves, to the larger ecological and cosmic lifecycles that press against the limits of human comprehension. That it does so with humor and not despair—what else were we going to do with all those old batteries?—also somehow plays a role in the way it occupies space, lightening its presence and reminding its viewers that all human endeavors have a comic dimension.
“I’ll look at things outside all the time, and wonder what’s worthy of being outside; it’s hard to compete with a good cactus or a good tree.”
The sculpture also reads as a straightforward marker, a vertically oriented object with many analogues in the landscape, particularly the Southern California one, where cacti and other succulents make fantastical use of spikes and protrusions of all kinds. It therefore elicits a related kind of wonder, both about the long, rich, complicated tradition of humans placing objects in the landscape to orient themselves and anchor religious or other social practices, and about the fine line that separates human interventions from natural ones.
“Contemporary art is already quasi-religious, with its own temples and scribes. What is an artist? What do we mean by that? I don’t know that we really have a good, go-to definition. It means all kinds of things.”
Evan Holloway has been featured in numerous group exhibitions, including The Sculpture Park, Madhavendra Palace, Nahargarh Fort, Jaipur, India (2017); Los Angeles - a fiction, Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon, France (2017) and Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo (2016); Don’t Look Back: The 1990s at MOCA, The Geffen Contemporary, Los Angeles (2016); Lightness of Being, Public Art Fund, City Hall Park, New York (2013); All of this and nothing, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2011); 2008 California Biennial, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, California; The Uncertainty of Objects & Ideas, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (2006); and Whitney Biennial 2002, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. His work is in the permanent collections of museums including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, California; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Holloway lives and works in Los Angeles.
Individual photography of Watery Part of Air and Air/and by Robert Wedemeyer
Individual photography of Perfected Success by Lee Thompson
Installation photography by Elon Schoenholz
Videography by Tony Ung
Editing by Carl Elsaesser