One attribute that is common to original thinkers is an ability to perceive what is intangible in human experience and to translate it into comprehensible terms. As Albert Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing that we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”
Asheer Akram’s “Sacred Spaces” exhibition attempts to express the concepts that Einstein describes. On view at the Belger Crane Yard Gallery, the works decode mystical experience into visual form. Dualities of material and content are paired in massive sculptures, large wall reliefs and smaller ceramic vessels.
Components that are ponderous and hefty, such as steel, oak and clay, are cut and formed in evanescent filigrees that riff on Islamic patterns.
Akram investigates weight and weightlessness by fusing the most monumental of sculptures to delicate and insubstantial bases. The effect is to allow the viewer to ponder an aspect of human experience that is paradoxical and difficult to define: our lives are intricate, mammoth and ephemeral simultaneously, as delicate, beautiful and easily upset as one of Akram’s colossal works.
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The artist has a beautiful sense of color and knows how to use it in support of visual metaphor. In “Luminous Girih” (2014), a roughly 4-foot-tall work in steel, stoneware, glaze and enamel, a rich aqueous blue-green screen of stoneware appears against a neutral steel plinth. The two colors speak of life and its aftermath and are fused into one coherent entity.
The shape of the piece as a whole looks like a grave marker. Through relatively few manipulations, Akram has created a work that is aesthetically beautiful and conceptually insightful.
Akram’s sense of color also is exhibited in his restraint. He uses color when it is a necessary component of meaning and never as mere decoration.
An essential sculpture in the exhibition, “Broken Illuminations,” is the gray of the steel from which it was fabricated. Its buckled and vulnerable carcass haunts the center of the gallery with poetic intensity and myriad meanings. It is a monumental shattered lantern that speaks to the frivolity of narcissism and dogma.
Akram has traveled widely to locations often overlooked by American travelers — to Pakistan, Armenia, South Korea and Turkey.
He has expanded our perceptions of what a work of art can be, most notably in his creation of the Pakistani Cargo Truck Initiative of 2011. This fully functional vehicle, an amalgam of a Pakistani cargo truck and an American bus, celebrates Pakistan’s tradition of visual embellishment and America’s ingenuity, qualities that Akram, who is of Pakistani-American heritage, embodies in his studio practice. This show is Akram’s first since the truck was completed.
In a city vibrating with visual art and creative energy, it can be difficult to decide what events are worth attending. But this is an exhibition that must be seen, combining the best of what an artist can be: a magician of materials, a poet of the human condition.
“Asheer Akram: Sacred Spaces” is at the Belger Crane Yard Gallery, 2011 Tracy Ave., through Jan. 24. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and by appointment. For more information, call 816-474-7316.