Geometric abstraction has been around for a long time. Long enough, in fact, to be the subject of any number of revivals.
Andrew Topolski has worked in a geometric mode for at least a dozen years. From the start he has incorporated into his drawings and sculptures scientific, architectural and musical references. Numerous social and political ideas are more or less hidden by a geometric art that reaches back to the earliest years of modernism.
This duality between the neo-constructivist look of his art and the socially charged ideas behind it makes Topolski appear both a formalist/conceptualist and an activist.
But the artist asserts that his work has no political basis. The accumulation of ideas that drift through the drawings and sculpture are, he says, evidence of "merely a contemporary social awareness of existing situations which we confront daily."
"Merely" is the key word here. The ideas are there, certainly, but deeply obscured by the complex workings of Topolski's brand of geometric composition. You may dig, but you probably will not find. A string of hints will appear -- diagrams that must refer to something, numbers and words that seem complete if only one could get a bead on their source. Some of the more dimensional drawings suggest elaborate architectural constructions. Others look like a joining of ordinary objects -- a funnel and a sphere.
How does the viewer find the orientation of this work? The richness of the visual manipulation makes these attractive objects. The luminosity of vellum paper, the subtle blendings of dry pigment and graphite, the delicate pilings of diagrams, the astutely balanced overall composition itself -- all contribute to the visual beauty of these works.
Should one accept the artist's explanation and be content to gather extra-artistic clues in off moments? If so, then these pieces become a kind of formalist revivalism. One must give up all hope of patching together anything like a complete view of sociopolitical intentions hidden in the work. The message would then be: Art in one pot, politics in another.
To me, this seems unsatisfactory. Clearly Topolski doesn't intend to sever his politics from his art. Why talk about using glass because in the tremendous heat of a nuclear blast the heat turns sand into glass? Why titles that sometimes read like scientific cryptograms?
And then, many works look like diagrams and plottings for actual devices or constructions. Most of the sculptures have pseudo-functional attributes. Some, like "Sounding 09061," seem devices frozen midway in the operation of some unexplained scientific or mechanical function. It is static and determined formally, yet seems to hold a memory of past action.
I suspect that the work finally rests on a desire that is not only double but contradictory. The appearance of the art suggests that Topolski follows the formalist dictum that sociopolitical concerns and art simply do not mix. But then there is no indication that he confronts the constructivist tradition from which he draws all his visual vocabulary. He simply borrows and elaborates.
The other half of the desire is to produce an activist's art that somehow will make the world a better place in which to live. But this is never articulated in the art, only coyly obscured by a formal game of hide-and-seek.
And sadly, these beliefs never can be articulated in the form that Topolski has chosen. High formalism -- especially of this elaborate kind -- just does not bend that way.
Twelve-year survey of the work of Andrew Topolski.
Large drawings and a newly created glass sculpture by this former Buffalonian.
Through March 29 at Castellani Art Museum, Niagara University.