At the Rose, oracular sleekness and a very different Sahara
WALTHAM — Fred Eversley, the subject of a minimalist, cosmic show at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, started out in life as an aerospace engineer. His sleek sculptures, crafted and finished with precision, have the lean economy of industrial design.
But these works don’t belong on a spacecraft — except, perhaps, to signal to an alien species the breadth of human consciousness. They are oracular. Their interplay of reflection and transparency and their elegant, straightforward forms hint that if you were to stare into one long enough, it might deliver divination.
In the mid 1960s, Eversley gave up his job at California’s Wyle Laboratories to become a sculptor. He was 25. By 1970, he had a solo show at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art. The Rose exhibition, “Fred Eversley: Black, White, Gray,” spotlights work the artist made in the 1970s.
Eversley found his technique quickly, casting liquid polyester resin to first make gleaming, translucent blocks, cones, and arcs, then the wondrous parabolic circles he calls lenses. He formed round pieces with centrifugal force, on a huge turntable that once produced casings for atomic bombs. The warm, sunny tones you’d expect from an artist working in Venice Beach washed through these early sculptures.
Neighbors of his there included John McCracken and Larry Bell, artists in California’s Light and Space movement, of which James Turrell is the patron saint. They aimed to make viewers aware of the process of seeing. The art was less about the object and more about its effect on the eye, the brain, and the spirit. Eversley fit right in.
McCracken gave the young sculptor a can of black paint, and the work that sprang from that companionable gesture makes up this show. Eversley set aside the seductions of emeralds, wine reds, and honeyed yellows for a starker palette. These sculptures may be less intoxicating, but they are commanding, taking on life, death, and cosmology.
The black pieces mirror, confront, and suck you in; black holes come to mind. White ones cradle and comfort. Gray ones are shrouds, sometimes parting to reveal whatever lies beyond.
The show’s installation, orchestrated by Rose curator Kim Conaty, is a marvel. Look through one work at an array of other ones (they are all untitled), and that frame shifts things: Suddenly, you’re not appraising objects in a gallery, but viewing another world, one both distant and intimate. The lenses act as gyres into the imagination.
They stand on edge. In one suite of three, a nearly open gray circle sits between a black concave lens and a white one. The glossy inward slopes of the outer two slide us right to their centers, where the pigment clears.
These small openings prompt the gaze of a spy through a keyhole, or a scientist through a scope. We’re discovering a world within. Peer through the black one, and the others resemble a lineup of planets. The wall sculpture beyond, a black-and-white arc, might be a falling star. The world within is galactic.
Two arcing wall works have graceful, muscular lines, but they lack the lenses’ grip and sweep. The slender, sliced wedges of cylinders in another group, however, resemble small monoliths, sites of contemplation and worship. As with the lenses, translucency and mirroring make these objects magnetic — pulling us in, pushing us out, beckoning us through.
From Eversley’s show, I went to the video projection that anchors “Tommy Hartung: King Solomon’s Mines,” the show in the Lower Rose Gallery. The first thing I saw was a lens encircling a glass sphere.
“The eye is a two-way street,” a voice intoned.
I felt I had slipped into one of Eversley’s black holes, and was now tumbling fast into a hot, frenetic alternative universe. Hartung crafts epic videos with animation and both original and found footage, and this one is an onslaught. It’s the second in a planned trio of King Solomon videos, which use the wealthy and wise biblical king as a springboard for themes of class and power. It’s set in the remote Tibesti region of the Sahara Desert, where human trafficking perversely crosses paths with high-end tourism.
The exhibition is called “King Solomon’s Mines,” but the video’s title card reads “King Solomon’s Minds.” That fits: Hartung ricochets from one surreal image to the next, suggesting tenuously tethered dreams — not just of one man, but of society. He uses the rubble of old myths to build a new one.
The narrator, an authoritative basso, warns against jinns, demons in Arab cultures. Jinns get under your skin, spark wicked impulses. The voice-over narration is incantatory and occasionally garbled, ruminating on robots, dance clubs, and the evil eye. I found it hard to follow as my eyes gobbled up the audacious visuals.
Hartung scratches over some of his frames, electrifying images with staticky lines and smears of acidic color. If a finished painting could unfold over time, it would look like this: smudgy, abrasive, brilliant. We’re in a Land Rover speeding through the desert, then watching a child with fernlike appendages grapple up a steep incline; we’re listening to a turbaned man with a cloud-filled blue sky for a face.
It’s a breakneck video, gorgeous and confounding. I watched it twice, and could probably have seen it 10 times before it would coalesce.
That’s OK. Dreamtime has its own logic, and it takes patience to feel your way into it.
FRED EVERSLEY: Black, White, Gray
TOMMY HARTUNG: King Solomon’s Mines
At Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, 415 South St., Waltham, through June 11. 781-736-3434, www.brandeis.edu/rose