The sculptures of Kyle J. Bauer have a gamelike quality, a sense of earnest play rarely seen in work made with such formalist rigor. Drawing from maritime navigation and the idea of façade—both as the decorative facing of a building and as a superficial or false front—for primary inspiration, Bauer mixes bright colors and found materials to produce works that feel vaguely familiar, as if they were objects seen bobbing in the ocean off a childhood coastline. Amid their pleasing surfaces, the pieces retain visual tension; readings of the works often vacillate between fluidity and rigidity, stillness and potential energy, accessibility and impenetrability.
Whether they feel still or fluid, or both, Bauer’s pieces convey a strong sense of directionality. Upon looking at Mooring (2013), one might feel as though it were pointing to a specific place to which one might navigate, if only one could understand its symbols. The eye tends to read the piece from left to right, following the graphic black-and-white wavy lines through the mysterious, unyielding brown cube and shooting off along the strong diagonals of the bright orange dowels. Capsule-like porcelain cylinders hang from eyebolts screwed into the cube’s pegboard face, reading at once like cables in a switchboard and anchors or ballast. The effect is of an ongoing translation to which the viewer is not privy; the secrets of Mooring are safely protected by an inscrutable symbolism.
Many of Bauer’s sculptures retain this sense of withheld information, despite their apparent simplicity and inviting colors. This is conveyed not only through familiar but enigmatic signs, but also through an energetic stillness, as if the works were kinetic objects forever at rest without the proper inputs. Composition |4 1 1| (2014) looks like a child’s toy, with its streamer pom-pom and beach-ball-like sphere atop a base tempting to be rocked, yet the precision of its form stops a viewer from pushing the whole thing over—clearly an object so strictly assembled was designed for something other than play, right?
Bauer seems to give just enough information to entice a viewer into conceptual and bodily engagement, to grapple with what the works might mean. Even the names of the pieces suggest deeper layers of meaning that almost jog one’s memory into making the right connections. Perhaps by squinting at Tree Line | After Klimt (2013) one can make out something that recalls a particularly graphic piece by Gustav Klimt, or lines on trees that mark a water or snow level. Or perhaps it reminds one of a golf game in a fever dream.
But in formalism, meaning in its strictest sense is of course inconsequential. At the end, one is left with an arrangement whose intent may or may not be known, and which may or may not matter at all. The joy of Bauer’s work is in how its formal and conceptual gestures trigger a vague sense of recognition, even nostalgia, for illusive significance. For all of the intellectual dancing one might do around each piece, the works are ultimately just fun to look at. Bauer’s sculptures are pleasing without being vapid, offering positive affirmation for levity in minimalism.
Kyle Bauer moved to Baltimore after earning his MFA from Louisiana State University in 2011. His current body of work is an exploration that combines a metaphorical reference to maritime navigation with sculptural forms that convey balance, tension, and control. These mixed-media sculptures are conceived with an adherence to the formalist perspective of objects. He recently completed a three-year residency at Baltimore Clayworks and is a 2014 Sondheim Artscape Prize finalist, a 2015 Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Grant Award recipient, and a finalist for the 2015 Miami University Young Sculptors Competition for the William and Dorothy Yeck Award. He has had recent exhibitions at the Walters Art Museum, Vox Populi, Flashpoint Gallery, Randall Scott Projects, McDaniel College, Arlington Art Center, School 33 Art Center, and Maryland Art Place.