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Stone and Steel Sculptures Tap into a Museum’s Industrial Roots

April 21, 2016

Nonas’ monumental installation, “Single Artificer” (2016), part of the exhibition The Man in the Empty Space, sprawls across the floor of the museum’s Building 5, consisting of railroad ties arranged in a bending curve, filling the long gallery with what appears to be a segment of a railroad line. Three large chairs, “Granite Chairs (2016 Series, Chairs for Björn),” sit like markers at intervals beside the suggested railroad’s path. The chairs offer little in the way of comfort, but rather infer, by their bulk and gravitas, memorials or rough unworked headstones. Accompanying the chairs are stools cut from the same granite, and they, too, sit languid and cool. Nonas uses a minimalistic approach, a simple gesture or a basic series of cuts, to offer up the complexities of the environment his work inhabits. What’s implied is that the history of the museum’s buildings is complicated, and this site-specific work insists upon that. An easy rendering of the piece might conclude that Nonas has seized upon the idea of the railroad as intrinsic to the museum’s history, the connective tissue that allowed raw materials in and finished products to be sent out. But instead, the piece feels more about the human experience of the place — its anthropology, as it were. Despite the scale of the work, and the rough-hewn feel of the materials Nonas uses, the grittiness of lived experience and a real human past prevails here, something that is perhaps less about the architecture and the factory’s process, and more about the factory workers themselves.