There’s something rightly inscrutable about Entang Wiharso’s “Double Protection” (2015), on display at Marc Straus. The figurative graphite sculpture points to a kind of intimacy between two figures I can glimpse but not fully understand — because I’m not part of their relationship and therefore not privy to its secrets. This work is a provocation, an indication of the thorny and strained compromises members of a couple make to remain a couple.
Wiharso’s dark gray figures balance against each other, the man almost floating above the ground, only touching it with his right hand, bearing his weight on that side, his left foot planted to balance him. He is in flux. He might be getting up; he might be falling back. Either way, the knife gripped firmly in his left hand is ready to take someone out. His partner, a woman with knives crisscrossed in her hair bun, leans on him, close enough to be whispering in his ear. Her body is draped over his, almost embracing him with her right hand, but her fingers form a fist. She is on her knees but not prone. The sword in her left hand juts over the male figure’s right shoulder as if she’s just missed her one-handed cut. They are too close to each other to use their weapons effectively, and that’s the useful metaphor for their entanglement: a détente enforced by too-close proximity.
Though there are several other pieces in Wiharso’s solo exhibition Promising Land, including the frieze-type sculptures he has become known for, they don’t interest me nearly as much as the semi-narrative tableaux depicted in “Double Protection” and echoed by “Golden Sweat” (2014–16). The latter more obviously partakes of the language of surrealism articulated in Wiharso’s other sculptures, which also have the color and cartoonish hyperbole of pop art. In “Golden Sweat,” the figures are standing, again close together, all dressed in silver. The woman holds a shotgun in one hand, its butt on the floor behind the man. As with “Double Protection,” the expressions on these characters’ faces are devoid of emotion, their eyes given over to thousand-yard stares into the ether. Here again there are paired knives in the woman’s hair, which is sculpted into a long tendril that pools behind her to end in a kind of crescent-shaped weapon. Small gold tear-shaped ingots are plopped on the floor beneath the figures. They might be dancing; they might be plotting murder.
Compared to the sculptures on the walls, which are all complex and nightmarish allegories, these two pieces stand out because they are so enigmatic. By isolating the strange collusion of the characters in a way that hints at either future or past violence, Wiharso makes them seem like metaphors for adult romantic relationships in which the participants remain armed against — but also resolved to protect — those closest to them.
Entang Wiharso: Promising Land continues at Marc Straus (299 Grand Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through May 14.