Raw Letters

Jack Pierson explores the intrinsic meaning of language’s building blocks

From wordsmith to symbol-smith, Jack Pierson enters new territory in his latest exhibition, “Abstracts” at Cheim & Read. His signature word sculptures that referenced issues of relationship and gay identity have given way to Pierson’s use of letters as raw material without the necessity of tying them to language.

Many in this series of wall sculptures form totemic upright pieces that tower over the viewer. The letters, even with their abnormal orientations, look strangely familiar, and the mind works to decipher meaning. “Lock-Scheme,” 2008, has an almost human presence in graphic form, with its combination of used and faded orange and red letters. Slick and red, “Flourish”, 2009, uses large arabesques and curly-cues to cartoon-like expletive effect.

The aged quality of the found signage adds the gravity of time and history to most of these works, which Pierson combines with a blithe sense of color. This exhibition carries less a sense of nostalgia than the earlier word pieces.

Large, symmetrical, and loaded with white neon, “Abstract #11,” 2008, is a vertical piece that glows. This work seems to function in the neither land between its form –– garish vintage Vegas signage –– and the purity of its white ethereal aura. Animated in feel and figurative in form, “Abstract #18,” 2009, is asymmetrical, with its many small letter elements creating a playful dynamic calligraphy.

Too much repetition can lead to less exciting results, as in “Abstract #15,” 2008, which uses 14 different typefaces of the letter “O” that form a large circle on the wall. “Her ancient solitary sign,” 2009, is another large grouping of “O”’s, hung salon style, but here they look like frames or early Allan McCollum surrogates.

Some of the smaller pieces in the show lack the punch and impact of the larger works. “Nice,” 2009, fails to coalesce; size does matter.

One of the strongest works in the show is the large freestanding “Abstract #10,” 2008, a work made from giant, four-foot high letters, remnants of old ciphers. The large aged metal surfaces reveal time, history, and beauty in the decay of red and green paint. This piece has precedents –– Robert Indiana or John Chamberlain –– but stakes out new terrain, working as a sculpture, a fragment, and a symbol.

Using letters as raw material, the specific gives way to the suggestive. Pierson enters a new domain in his work, and questions meaning. His frontier seems full of possibility.

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Cheim & Read

547 W. 25 St.

Tue.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Through Nov. 14