David M. Roth, Squarecylinder: Ewerdt Hilgemann

Letter From Los Angeles

By David M. Roth Oct. 3, 2010

For nearly a week we roamed: from Santa Monica to Hollywood, from Beverly Hills to downtown, and from Claremont to Pasadena. We reveled in the wackiness and tackiness of it all — and yes, got stuck in some epic traffic snarls. Our reward: a handful of worthy shows, some of them life-changing. 

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German sculptor Ewerdt Hilgemann’s solo U.S. debut, Panta Rhei, at Samuel Freeman creates frisson through an altogether different means: he converts the raw, inert mass of stainless steel forms into an experience of specular light by figuratively imploding them.  To demonstrate, Freeman shows me a video of the artist working in his studio.  With an impish twinkle in his eye, Hilgemann explains how he begins with basic forms: triangles, squares and oblong rectangles that he builds from sheet metal and buffs to a seamless, high gloss.  Some are small enough to fit on a pedestal; others approximate the size of human figures.  To these he welds a pneumatic valve which, when hooked to a generator, sucks the air out of each object with a loud boom.

Their kicked-in, hollowed-out look feels like a perceptual trick whose impact is compounded by the way they simultaneously reflect and refract light.  No, they don’t produce the giddy, hall-of-mirrors effect of say, Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, but on a vastly smaller scale, they come proportionally close.  They evoke the glossy sheen of minimalism while simultaneously issuing a poke in the eye to its purist orthodoxies.  Donald Judd’s gleaming boxes: deflated!