James Carl: Conformity

April 29 - May 19, 2023

Nicholas Metivier Gallery is pleased to announce Conformity, an exhibition of new sculptures and works on paper by James Carl. The exhibition will open on April 29th and run until May 19th. 


At the center of James Carl’s new west gallery exhibition, Conformity, are five new marble  ‘Reservoir’ sculptures. The series is a fine example of what Carl is best known for: transforming everyday objects using unexpected materials with exacting execution. The forms of the sculptures are derived from windshield washer antifreeze bladders from a variety of common North American cars. Each sculpture is titled after the year and model of the car it was extracted from, e.g., Reservoir (’98 Venture). The objects, plucked from obscurity under the hood and rendered in various fine stones, are both surprisingly poetic and remarkably animated. In making these utilitarian forms visible, Carl encourages us to revisit our relationships to the objects we’ve surrounded ourselves with—to imagine their beauty, their humor and the potential they offer for unexpected encounter.


The marble “reservoirs'' are a series of works I began in Italy in 2017. What attracted me to the original objects was the eccentricity and variety of their forms, and the lack of relationship they displayed between form and function. The functional requirements of the windshield washer reservoir are minimal: liquid pours in one end, liquid gets stored, liquid squirts out another end. This modest functional demand results in a high level of flexibility in the formal design of the object: they are free to fit around and in-between the higher functioning parts under the hood, taking the shape of leftover space. They are literally impressed by other forms, accommodating themselves to the larger system through their flexibility and subordination. Their plasticity and supple conformity recall the fluid nature of the liquid they’re designed to store.

-       James Carl


In the front gallery rests a striking new floor piece, Pneu, a replica of a generic inner tube, carved from Kilkenny black marble. Carl lets the beauty and tactility of the natural material resonate; only a simplified valve stem and a sense of gently inflated distortion nod to its industrial origin. It is a clever prelude to what is to come in the west gallery space, as Pneu, (meaning “tire” in French and derived from the Greek  “pneuma” – breath or spirit) is another example of bringing the inside, out. The work alludes to the sculptor’s most primary task, breathing life to inert material, while also highlighting the human ability to turn industrial flotsam to pleasurable ends—the work recalling both the cottage dock and Isamu Noguchi’s marriage of natural materials. The form of the tire (or torus) has been a reoccurring motif throughout Carl’s career. His white walls series (1998-ongoing) are installations of life size tire-like forms constructed from corrugated plastic. The largest pile of white walls is in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario.


Accompanying the sculptures in the west gallery are several new works on paper. Drawings in sliver leaf that are based on an iconic spoon design take the common metaphor of the “silver spoon” as a departure point for extended visual play and meditation. Also on view are new digital prints of North American and European spanners or wrenches, rendered in Carl’s generic digital hand. Anthropomorphic in their simplified renderings, they question notions of conformity as they nod to the expression, “a spanner in the works”.