Duncan Johnson at JJ Brookings
San Francisco Chronicle
May 19 , 2001
Minimalist Carl Andre's 1976 "Herm (Elements Series)" -- an uncarved square
beam stood on end -- marked a stopping point for contemporary wood
Its mute, blunt rejection of craft threw the arbitrariness of handiwork
starkly into relief.
The work of New York sculptor Duncan Johnson at J.J. Brookings shows some of
the difficulties of reinstating complexity of craft and form into wood
sculpture after the minimalist finale.
Johnson communicates the physical pleasure of working with wood in hardwood
pieces such as "Knuckle" (1996) and in softwood works such as "Halfmoon"
(2001) and "Desert Storm" (2001).
Johnson continually runs the risk of spending himself in obsessive craft.
A few pieces have the mini-monumentality of dollhouses or architectural
models. One or two even suggest small, timeworn worlds, little allegories of
In several wall pieces, Johnson fastened mosaics of wood slivers to
irregular wood armatures using hundreds of tiny pins. The resulting reliefs
have the shimmer of a gap-ridden, abstract marquetry, though its energy is
"Halfmoon" (2001), which stands on edge, is a gently curved plane composed
of hundreds of bits of wood, cleanly finished on one side, all uneven at the
back. "Halfmoon" might have got its title from the smooth circular
indentation in its front surface, which is cratered with the rings of dark
end grain punctuating the mosaic of pale wood segments.
The excellence of this piece comes from the sense that Johnson continually
observed his materials as closely as the form he was making.
Wherever that balance has occurred -- in "Halfmoon," "Knuckle" (1996) "Web" (1996) -- Johnson makes something mysteriously as well as rationally