For my one person show called Kooks and Villains at Lesley Heller Workspace in 2015 David Brody wrote this wonderful essay. You can also download a pdf of the catalog.
Unfinish Fetish by David Brody
Daniel Wiener’s sculpture evokes for me the pathos-steeped stoner sublime –– the hyper-alert dazzle, the enlightened creepiness, the brilliant thoughts that change on the fly and never come to a conclusion. But don’t let that fool you: as with all art rooted in modernist ideals of improvisation and discovery, Wiener’s wholes are greater than the sum of their parts, or they’d be nothing. You get mesmerized by a remarkable vision such as Beast’s Confession only because its endlessly curling surfaces, its twists and bulges that never settle, do improbably resolve on some level, into a formally coherent object with undeniable (possibly malevolent) charisma.
But I might as well say it: Wiener’s color is “totally baked.” Folded into chemically activated masses like coal seams in Appalachia, or in more swirly passages like marble in the Apennines, Wiener’s elusive, wildly contrasting ribbons of epoxy-based synthetic clay diagram their history of manipulation. (His gamut of sculptural tools begins with bakers’ rolling pins and ceramicists’ press-molds, progressing as the material hardens to power tools.) To the transfixed viewer, Wiener’s color layers unfold astonishingly in space and time, impossible to grasp, impossible to look away from –– the sort of visual clench typical of a college epiphany with a melting hippie candle, but also of an encounter with Bernini drapery carved into crazed veins of onyx. Recently the artist has gone one step further toward both figurative sculpture and psychedelia, embracing a degree of symmetry sufficient to hallucinate faces. Now imprisoned souls, devil-masks and talking furniture haunt his still fundamentally irregular, fundamentally abstract concoctions.
How can you say the rectangle in an abstraction is an exaggeration of a rectangle? This is something that Wiener, anything but a stoner, jotted down in notes he sent me. It may sum up the dilemma of an entire artistic generation, which has put the figure back into visionary abstraction. The bilaterality of the face, for Wiener as for Nicole Eisenman or Fred Tomaselli, or recently even James Siena, is no more than a grid to hang variations on; a grid, however, with comparative scale, and thus the potential for pictorial drama. What’s more, almost any bilateral arrangement will give rise to a charged psychic transaction with the viewer’s reptile brain, a phenomenon more absurd than magical.
And absurdity is at the core of Wiener’s inconvenient truth. For all the numerous moments of beauty and sculptural presence in these “Kooks and Villains,” their life force is in their comedy of neurosis, their principled uncertainty. I propose them as an antidote to the Kantian radiance of John McCracken’s resin planks –– all a priori, solid rectangles, the unexaggerated kind. Let it be noted that Wiener grew up a surfer in California, and that the word “kooks” is surfer slang for novices who don’t know what they’re doing. If McCracken, with his surf-shop/body-shop cool, exemplifies LA Finish Fetish, Wiener, the eternal kook, is just barely in control of the mutating plastic wave he’s riding –– which is exactly where he wants us.