Real to Real

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When the idea for a DeAndrea show was presented to Zalkind by a boardmember of the Mizel Arts Center, of which the Singer is a part, the gallery director gave pause. "I felt like it was unworkable," says Zalkind, since DeAndrea is best known for his detailed renditions of nude females and the Singer is part of a family-oriented facility (the Mizel Arts Center leases space from the Jewish Community Center). "We have a religious preschool here, so no naked ladies," says Zalkind, kicking up his Brooklyn accent a notch. As if on cue, a group of three- and four-year-olds march through the gallery. "Now, remember our special rule: no touching," the teacher says.

Zalkind was surprised that DeAndrea was interested. "I thought of him in terms of larger venues and with his market being elsewhere. But he was very nice all around, though at first he was skeptical about putting on a show without the naked ladies," says Zalkind.

Few will disagree with Zalkind's own assessment that the pieces he chose for Fragments constitute "a convincing body of work." The spare installation of the multi-space Singer is stunning and will stop visitors in their tracks as they approach the gallery, which is up a flight of stairs just off the lobby of the south entrance of the JCC.

The show begins even before you enter the Singer, with a piece in the gallery's display window next to the entrance. "Untitled (Tera)" is very new; in fact, it's not finished. It is a model for a yet-to-be-cast bronze that will incorporate another figure not included in Fragments. "Untitled (Tera)" is a headless figure of a young ballet dancer in tights. She is seated on a found wooden stool that's painted black. The figure is made of DeAndrea's typical material, cast polyvinyl acetate. The finished piece, unlike the study model here, has a head, but DeAndrea is still working on it. "I've had the head off and on a couple of times," he says.

Entering the first gallery, visitors are confronted with an elegant arrangement featuring a handful of sculptures on stands. They have been scattered throughout the room along with a larger group of studies crowded onto a wall-mounted shelf. The effect is literally breathtaking, and many will respond to the sight with a sigh of delight.

The show leads off with a magnificent bronze bust of a young girl titled "Liv." The piece, originally cast in 1975 and later recast in bronze, depicts DeAndrea's daughter at the age of eight. As in his better-known polyvinyl pieces, DeAndrea has painted this bronze naturalistically. His handling of the skin tones is brilliant, as usual. Unlike his work in polyvinyl, in which he uses glass eyes and human and synthetic hair, the features in "Liv" are integral to the casting and have been painted.

Just beyond "Liv" is "Ariel," a closely associated bronze portrait bust of DeAndrea's other daughter, done in 1996. Although the teenage Ariel is actually younger than Liv in real life, in Fragments she's portrayed as the older of the two. Like "Liv," this piece is a bronze cast that has been painted naturalistically. Both sculptures clearly reveal the ongoing influence of Italian Renaissance art on DeAndrea. They are especially suggestive of the famous polychrome ceramic sculptures created in the fifteenth century by Luca Della Robbia.

But the Italian Renaissance is not the only historical influence flaunted in Fragments. A pair of heads done this year and obviously inspired by classical antiquity are plaster studies for bronzes. Placed on a black painted plaster stand, one bust, precariously positioned on the edge, is painted white and the other black.

Also recalling the glories of the Greco-Roman tradition is "Untitled," a 1999 plaster of a male figure based on an original polyvinyl cast of 1982. This piece is one of a pair; the other is a matching female figure that remained at DeAndrea's home. "Untitled" has a gorgeous stained finish that looks like marble. DeAndrea created the surface by rubbing dry pigments mixed with water over the plaster. He then waxed it and allowed it to weather outside. "But not for too long," he says, since the plaster will eventually melt when exposed to the elements.

Providing a backdrop and, in a sense, a background to these sculptures is the first of three shelves on which experimental heads are arranged. The heads record three decades of DeAndrea's work, and the artist says that each one represents a statue and recalls the experience of working with various models. "The people are gone, but I feel like they're still with me," he says. The heads are made in a variety of materials. Some are in polyvinyl and a few are in plaster, but most are made of Bondo, a malleable plastic chiefly used in automotive repair.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia