Sex and Stuff

New Work at the Harbor Gallery
University of Massachusetts, Boston, MA


Bay Windows, October, 1992
By: Shawn Hill

Kornfeldís targets of choice are the generic, international symbols for male and female. A simple enough motif, but he multiplies it (through Xerox and computer technology into an atomistic "basic particle" with which to construct all his elaborate reliefs and collages.

The show has two sections: the "Sex Symbols" are large wall pieces each which juxtaposes a huge silhouette (made up of hundreds of tiny copies of the same figure) with a "primitive icon" placed on a red circular plate; the Iconostasis" is an arrangement of little alters which borrows (and updates) its form from Byzantine church architecture.

Of the two, "Iconostasis" is the more convincing. Flanking the symmetrical centerpiece are large computer scrolls featuring variations on the male symbol. In several, the larger body is revealed to have a skeleton made from a conglomerate of smaller prototypes, altered and exaggerated by the computer to achieve the overall desired proportion. One image simply arranges these variations in a narrow column. Here Kornfeld plays with the all purpose figure to create a series of individuals; some have swelled heads, others have broad shoulders and narrow hips, still others have developed bulging pot bellies.

The central arrangement, "Athos" was inspired by the artistís recent tour of the Mediterranean, where he was "drawn to ancient churches and monasteries." It contains seven diptychs which juxtapose" primitive vaginal and phallic forms" on the left with framed icons featuring either partner of the happy modern couple on the right. Kornfeld has "distressed" these little tableaux to give the appearance of great age; heís substituted his ridged figures for the religious ones (a concretizaqtion of a conceptual change he believes weíve already undergone). As the primitive shapes are mounted on plaques of sky blue, and the black symbols decorated with gold leaf, the entire arrangement is soothing to the eye. It allows for careful contemplation of his artistís exploration of the dichotomies of timeless/disposable, singular/multiple, and precious/common.

More heavy-handed are the "Sex Symbols." Theyíre visually striking; huge gun made-up of little men points at a small red rondo sporting a "vaginal shape"; a glamorous gargantuan evening pump of little women is poised to squash a similar icon containing the phallic form." But here the modern, disposable" side wins out: the silhouettes are so carefully cut and in such stark black and white, that they over power the quasi-ancient icons. Accompanying text explains the artistís wish to comment on the subliminal statements inherent in museum archival technique; but thatís one too many ideas for an already dramatic concept. If Kornfeld wishes to argue for the value of past symbols then they need to be every bit as striking as the current ones he manipulates so well.