Review: Boolean Valley — The Nasher Sculpture Center

[Originally published in Arts and Culture Magazine]

Art shows us the manner in which things coalesce. For instance, in a John Singer Sargent portrait, one sees how figures intersect with surroundings—with divans, dogs and opulently appointed rooms. And in Damien Hirst’s “For the Love of God” we’re reminded that art borrows from—and contributes to—the historical and public cult of what we deem “genius.” Art is abidingly unchaste because it’s made of commingling stuff. However, even in its myriad forms, that’s usually a subtext, the mere turf upon which art operates. Therefore, it’s interesting to view a work in which intersection is the operative trope. And that’s precisely the case with the Nasher Center’s recent exhibit, “Boolean Valley.”

As you may recall, Boolean logic describes the manner in which volumes perform when they intersect. However, it’s dubious how stringently mathematics was employed in making the installation created by architect Nader Tehrani and potter Adam Silverman. I suspect the idea of Boolean algorithms was more important when they were naming the piece rather than any actual implementation of theorems. And, in the aggregate, it doesn’t matter. What’s more interesting is the experience of the piece, the lovely and enjoyable act of seeing cobalt blue and silver shapes cleave and bifurcate, bind and split, in a reflecting pool that offers still another point of conjunction. And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that even the sharing of space, intersection itself, is quintessentially mathematical because it’s defined as the point, or set of points, common to multiple volumes. Who knew math enjoyed such lovely connotations?

Further, I suggest that “Boolean Valley” operates as a Meta Sculpture. Just as volumes of poetry can resonate individually or as a whole, referred to as Meta Poems, visual art can function in much the same way. And this is an ideal example. The individual pieces in this installation engage us because they’re vaguely sexy. The conical shapes appear either phallic or softly reminiscent of a breast, depending upon their height. And what we’re given is a field of shapes in which each operates upon the others. Moreover, the space between the shapes both divides and joins them.

It’s possible to imagine “Boolean Valley” working in negative space such that the “volume” is in the interstices, in the in-between-ness of the individual structures. And that’s rather perfect — after all, enigma is ultimately an ideal metaphor for the “work,” the task, of art. To add yet another layer or plane, one must also negotiate the water’s surface in the pool in which these objects reside and come to terms with the reflection of surrounding flora. So now we’re incorporating another image or, more precisely, yet another world, into this increasingly “Boolean” creation.

As an aside, the massively refractory nature of the piece is reminiscent of Indra’s net, the Vedic cosmological understanding of the world as constructed such that each moment and mode of intersection is signified as a jewel that reflects each and every other jewel. It’s as if there’s a literal infinity of relationships we’re being asked to consider. And while “Boolean Valley” may be propelled forward via mathematical connotations and permutations, it’s really not necessarily all that cerebral. These things are fun to consider but decidedly not needed for a leisurely stroll around the grounds of the Nasher and viewing a beautifully constructed installation that evolves and changes with every step, every glance and every person’s individual Muse.


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