100 Percent Natural 

Cynthia Handel's sculptures explore humanized nature.

We Californians live in a natural paradise, but our love of the great outdoors sometimes takes odd forms. Open plans and glass walls visually brought the landscape inside 1950s modernist homes, but that postwar suburban sprawl devoured orchards and farmlands and promoted our current auto culture. Today we spew twenty pounds of CO2 into the air for each gallon we burn reaching the newest unspoiled area. We tree-hugging Left Coasters really do get it, even if our inner gadabouts occasionally need to burn some road and rubber.

Cynthia Handel's sculpture show in the terrarium-like foyer of Gallery 555 may be untitled, but her subject is clearly our place in the natural world. Her lyrical, biomorphic pieces suggest Arp, Noguchi, and Puryear: "Basin" is a rectangular bronze slab with a bowl form at one end that seems to be migrating off the edge of the piece, to judge by its semicircular tracks or rippled wake. Her more numerous architecture- and furniture-themed pieces, however, reflect our aforementioned contradictions; they combine Bourgeois/Giacometti surrealism with Shapiro/LeWitt minimalism. "Urban Shelters" depicts a number of identical pitched-roof house forms extended to skyscraper (or human) proportions, each is done in a different style or with different materials, but they all lack roofs. The three-piece bronze, "House and Hill," situates another of these tall house forms, now roofed, and, raised on furniture legs, resembling an armoire, with two podlike canoe forms symbolizing the landscape. "Incubation Chamber" is a pointy-legged table with a flattened oval belly/breast of fiber and beeswax hanging from an incision at its center; a small cast-iron head or mushroom lies atop the table, while small pebbles sit below. "Plumb" is a tripod of wooden branches from which hangs a teardrop-shaped bronze basket or cage containing small branches or thorns; the tripod legs are sharpened and sit on soil core samples, beer-can-size cylinders of chalky pale gray resembling concrete. "50 Hand Prints" is composed of multicolored cast bronze shells or leaves, each with one or more impressions, signifiers of their own making and of the primal urge to create something enduring. "Seedcase" is a chain of eight linked cast-bronze cups arrayed in the shape of an eye, but also given a couple of curved stalks suggesting leaves or fishtails — or tool handles. Through April 30 at Gallery 555 (555 12th St., Oakland). MuseumCA.org/satelite


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