Whitehot Magazine

Claire Lieberman: FUNNY BALL at Martin Art Gallery

Claire Lieberman: FUNNY BALL, installation view, Martin Art Gallery, photo: Ken Ek.

Claire Lieberman

Martin Art Gallery

March 9 through April 8, 2022


Being something of an outlier can be a very good thing. Take for instance the art of Claire Lieberman, which prominently resides in the space on the far side of Pop, Minimal and Conceptual. Her art can best be described in terms like quiet and disquieting, contemplative and humorous, articulate and elusive – always grabbing the thoughts of the viewer with the gravity of their form. Speaking of weightiness, some of these pedestal sized hand carved and refined black marble sculptures that comprise the central installation here, can be as heavy as 170 pounds. Despite the obvious skill and planning required to make such beautifully formed and finished objects, the strength of Lieberman’s art lies in its multiple meanings, which can conjure up all sorts of challenging conclusions; suppositions that never completely crystalize long enough to fully find definitive meaning. This is important, because that elusiveness of message gives Lieberman’s art its illusion of being animated.

BABY BALL (VERGE), black marble, 11in x 7.5in x 7.5in, 2022, photo: Ken Kashian.

The ten sculptures, which are placed on a sizable wooden platform designed by the artist, create a futuristic cultural encapsulation, a sort of look-back at a past that features streamlined iconic cross-fertilized entities. Take for instance BABY BALL (VERGE). The form resembles something in the area of Felix the Cat’s head, but the nose is too long and the ears are not pointed. Scratching that determination, it begins to look like a triggering mechanism for a menacing machine that can cause serious unwanted havoc. Then it reverts back to some cute, mischievous animal reference, all while constantly commanding our attention. There are a few variations of this type of shifting of meanings here – CUTIE (2018) is particularly sinister. It’s sort of like the thorns on a rose – you get the occasional prick of pain with the established beauty, as its friendly form bears a large pointed crown. RATTLE (2021), with its oh so subtle seams, might make you start thinking about the destructive force of a touch sensitive underwater bomb when you take note of its shape. Even the word rattle can cause confusion, as is it a reference to both a child’s toy meant to pacify, and an action initiated to disturb peace. It’s a stretch, but you might even come to think of the wry code-names that were given to the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Little Boy and Fat Man, when you think of the titles vs shapes here.  

FUNNY BALL, black marble, 11.5in diameter, 2022, photo: Ken Kashian.

FUNNY BALL (2022), with all of its spaces around the various proud ‘buttons’, must have been such a challenge of the artist’s sticktoitiveness, with all those edges to perfect and the many winding valleys to fine tune between the circular bits. It is beautiful, yes - mystifying, yes - disturbing, yeah, as it makes me a little anxious, but you have to grasp the time commitment and skill set here, the layering of narratives, the elegance of form. It is all just so stunning. 

BUTTERFLY MACHINE GUN, black marble, 12in x 19in x 15.75in, 2020, photo: Jane Huntington.

BUTTERFLY MACHINE GUN (2022) is one of the sculptures in the exhibition that goes right to the heart of the issues in terms of the narrative. There are all sorts of scenarios Lieberman brings up with this piece. There is the decline in insect population due to climate change and pesticide use, those transgenic experimentations and applications with plants and animals, the absurdity of war as a solution for anything, abuses of power and on and on, all delivered with the finesse of a beautiful butterfly packing a machine gun.

THREE EYE, 30in x 22in, cast paper, 2022, photo: Ken Kashian.

Accompanying the ten sculptures are nine works created on cast paper hung on two nearby adjacent walls. In a way, they add a bit of stereophonic symbolism as they bring forth the base thoughts and designs that produced these incredible sculptures. There’s BLAM (2022), not related to a specific sculpture, but has the distinct underpinnings of Pop; BUTTERFLY (2022) and WAVING FLOWER (2022), which have clear links to flower power 60’s imagery felt here; and THREE EYE (2022), which looks like a gas mask for a mutant – all fulfilling their role in the spectrum that defines the art of Claire Lieberman.

Claire Lieberman: FUNNY BALL at the Martin Art Gallery, Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA runs through April 9th. WM

D. Dominick Lombardi

D. Dominick Lombardi is an artist, art writer and curator based in New York. A 45-Year retrospective of his art, which was curated by T. Michael Martin, has traveled from the Clara M. Eagle Gallery at MSU in Western Kentucky in 2019, to the Marie Walsh Sharpe Gallery of Contemporary Art, Ent Center for the Arts, UCCS in Colorado Springs in 2021 – next moving to the Dowd Gallery at SUNY Cortland, New York in February, 2022. Some of his writing credits include the New Art Examiner (1997-98 & 2023-present), The Brooklyn Rail (2023-present), ARTnews (1997), The New York Times (1998-2005), Juxtapoz (2002), Art in Asia (2007-2009), The Huffington Post (2012-2018), ARTES (2016-present), CultureCatch (2006-present), and dArt International magazine (2005-present). Lombardi’s most recent curatorial project was “Altered Logistics: Contemporary Collage and Appropriation Art” for SUNY Cortland's Dowd Gallery, Cortland, NY (2023), co-curated with Maximo Tuja. Contributor portrait by Danh Nguyen.



view all articles from this author