John Clement at Leila Heller Gallery

John Clement, sculpture, steel, mixed media on a base. Images courtesy of the artist and Leila Heller Gallery, New York, NY.


John Clement: Speedway

Leila Heller Gallery

February 16 through April 1, 2023 


John Clement is a New York-based, mid-career artist who specializes in curved aluminum sculptures that have been given different colors. For years, he worked as the first assistant of the noted sculptor Mark di Suvero, and while Clement’s work does not openly reflect his mentor’s large-size public assemblages, its shapes and materials–Clement's fascination with steel and circular forms–do owe something to di Suvero’s stewardship. This does not mean, in any way, that Clement is mimicking his former employer. Not at all. Instead, Clement stands as a practitioner of steel sculpture, a tradition perhaps stronger in the mid-to late 20th century than now. Small matter, though: Clement’s exhibition demonstrates high intelligence and craft..  Clement makes art in a variety of sizes and colors. The art in the show is joined from piece to piece by the artist’s consistent replication of circular aluminum tubes that mostly do not achieve a completed circle. Instead, the sculpture may display a sharp, pointed edge that juts beyond the circles closed in on each other.

John Clement, sculpture, steel, mixed media on a base. Images courtesy of the artist and Leila Heller Gallery, New York, NY.

The regularly curving work occurs very often in Clement’s sculptures. In Dino (2023), shiny red tube forms,made of aluminum, round themselves into near circles, usually with a couple of ends sticking out, beyond the curving forms set against each other. Certainly, there is no trace of realism–only the repetition of circular forms colored bright red (with the paint used on cars). Clement allows the form to speak for itself; its attractiveness stems from purely formal terms, not from any attempt to create a likeness of something real.  This work, like the others, generates a template for abstract form linked to work of the second half of the previous century; David Smith comes to mind. In Speedway Print (2023 ), the configuration is more complex; on the right, a couple of tight circles present themselves in a tangle of tubular forms pained a painted a metallic blue.This sculpture’s interest derives from the complexity of its parts; being either a relief nor a work of expanding volume. Instead,  the sculpture offers Clement’s audience the chance to see how circular rhythms are generated by subtle forms, mostly circular.


John Clement, sculpture, steel, mixed media on a base. Images courtesy of the artist and Leila Heller Gallery, New York, NY.

The last piece to be considered, Tales of Brave Ulysses (2022), consists of a complex, tangled arrangement of gray tubes that spread out against the wall, forming complicated patterns. They attract the eye by virtue of their inicacy.The tubes may, or may not, overlap each other’;the  patterns are intricate and require some attention to follow. But maybe that’s the point; Clement’s  patterns generate objective interest, both  in particular and across the group. Ideas are seemingly turned away from in favor of stylistic advance–in a way that orients the viewer to coiling spirals strong enough to serve as an archetypal design and support more than a few repetitions. Reiteration of form is central to this show, but the basic pattern –that of overlapping curves–is large enough to support nearly endless variation. Additionally, the different heights and colors of the works give the art a variance that keeps the eye interested and engaged.

John Clement, sculpture, steel, mixed media on a base. Images courtesy of the artist and Leila Heller Gallery, New York, NY.

It is interesting to contemplate the survival of Clement’s medium, which might seem to many past due. Yet that is far from the case. Just as we see a continuing creativity in expansive lyric abstraction, when one expects the genre to have been lessened by time, so can w look at Clement’s accomplishments with eyes of the moment–rather than as something historically bound. Clement’s predecessors–people like David Smith and Anthony Caro–were major figures, whose creativity has remained large enough for a gifted sculptor like Clement to improvise in new ways. His language takes part in a tradition that is deeply American, linked as it  is to industry and the craft of turned metal. 

Sometimes, this genre has made use of expansive designs to continue being shaped, generations after the high point of the medium. In poetry, for example, even rhymed stanzas persist, despite the centuries-long history behind them. In similar fashion, Clement’s historical past allows him to address the present and future, the usual site of  achieved creativity. His art reminds us of a a tradition developed by some of the best artists of the  century before this one, when their originality was expansive enough to continue into the present day. WM


Jonathan Goodman

Jonathan Goodman is a writer in New York who has written for Artcritical, Artery and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications. 


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