Roland Baladi's beautifully realized marble sculptures hover compellingly on the line between total illusionism and iconic symbolism. His use of marble for the replication of such common household objects as irons, toasters and radios affects us with a sense of dislocation that brings the objects he carves into focus at the same time that it alters our perception of them. Unlike many modern representationalist sculptors, Baladi is not invoking a material illusion. There is no question of mistaken identities with these objects: no confusing them with the real thing. This is not trompe l'œil sculpture. We are struck as much by their " marbleness " as by their recognizability. Our pleasure comes not from the artist's ability to deceive our eyes, but from the essential inappropriateness of the material to the form.

Marble, among all sculptural materials, is the most resonant of tradition - the least whimsical. The traditions this material evokes, from classical statuary to the sweeping classical curves of Arp, are more alive, and perhaps more oppressive for the Mediterranean artist, and it is probably no accident that Baladi, an Egyptian born artist, (his mother is Italian), should choose to both use and challenge these traditions. Baladi spends four months each summer in Carrara working in a studio in which traditional religious and monumental sculptures continue to be created and where a respect for traditional methods is lovingly upheld. Baladi has chosen highly untraditional forms, but the painstaking workmanshipand love of the material remain.



These sculptures are, in fact, as much about the physical qualities of marble as they are about the formal qualities of the objects portrayed. They affect us with their cool, insistent sensuality. Polished to a fine, almost eerie sheen, they seem to glow with a ghostly presence. And in a way they are ghosts. The objects Baladi chooses to sculpt are already dated. The sense of familiarity they greet us with is tinged with nostalgia. Like the headstones and mortuary sculpture marble is most often associated with today, they are memorials. Tributes tocommonplace objects that are, because of the rapid changes in industrial design, no longer commonplace.

The magic of marble is to seem both hard and soft at once, and the curving, slightly bloated lines of the 1940s and 1950s objects Baladi favors enhances and is enhanced by this quality. Baladi's art is an art of fruitful contradictions. We are struck by the permanence of these objects and by the absurdity of their permanence. But if there is an archness in capturing and preserving in glowing and durable marble an old telephone or a leather chair complete with sagging seat, it is far from frivolous. Indisputably solid, these sculptures remain oddly dreamlike. They confound our senses and our expectations, continually yielding mysteries.

Linda Chase, in catalogue OK Harris gallery, NY 2.28.81


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