Koussevitzky Art Gallery: Larry Kagan Shadow riddles at play

Wednesday April 13, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Larry Kagan's sculptures provoke a classic double-take. You look, then look again, and ask: "How does he do that?"

"That," in this instance, is produce a shadow totally unlike the object casting it -- a shadow that's a bird, a rabbit, a human portrait from an object that's all twisted metal rods.

Kagan's visual puzzles are on display through April 24 in a tiny show --only three wall-hung works --in the Koussevitzky Art Gallery at Berkshire Community College.

And puzzles they are. This viewer tried several times to visually reconstruct the angles from each point of metal to its corresponding shadow point on the wall, and gave up. It was too complicated.

Somehow, the tangle of rods overlap and blend under a spotlight to create that bird, that rabbit, and, most astoundingly, the iconic 1960 Alberto Korda photo portrait of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, hero of the 1959 Cuban Revolution.


In a text block, Kagan, who initially trained as an engineer before switching to art and who now teaches art at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, muses about the "automatic" line drawn with pencil and the "building process" behind a line drawn with shadow.

He ponders the fugitive nature of shadows, their inseparability from the objects that cast them and the kind of "hybrid" image that object and shadow produce together.

His website -- www.larrykagansculpture.com -- catalogs many more such hybrids from crickets to beach chairs, from jet fighters to smoking guns.

Yet once the wow factor fades, there comes a moment of letdown, a sense that what is being seen are more self-conscious feats of engineering, silhouette characters from a magic show than artworks that deeply satisfy.

And the more noticeable Kagan makes the disconnect between object and shadow, as in the Che Guevarra portrait; and the more unfathomable he makes the process look, the more his art drifts toward entertainment.


Far simpler, early geometric pieces on his website, like his "Cone" or "Nesting" boxes from the early 2000s, have a logic, harmony and integrity that that his later work seems to leave behind.

Still, Kagan's work is distinctive and may even be unique in some ways. It is worth seeing if only to marvel at how he does it.

To reach Charles Bonenti:
(413) 496-6211


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