David Hayes
Steel Sculpture
Stamford Sculpture Walk 1998

Suddenly, sculpture has entered Stamford's traffic flow. At the corner of Main Street and Atlantic, at Bedford and Forest, around the Center Court of Stamford Town Center - at these sites and more than a dozen others you will encounter a large construction by David Hayes. Built from sheets of steel, some of them stand over eight feet tall. A few are all black. Others play one color against another - red against yellow, for instance, or dark blue against green and a blue of a lighter shade. Their profiles zig, zag, curve, swerve and shift with remarkable rapidity. These sculptures give the eye a lot to do. And not just the eye.

Each one of Hayes' sculptures has a posture, its own way of calming a patch of ground. The claim made by Vertical Motif would be difficult to challenge. Its verticality seems to drive it into its site once and for all (corner of Bedford and Springs Streets). Dragonfly's balance is delicate but firm (Atlantic Street, near St. John' Church). Its form suggest flight, but, for now, flight plans have been suspended. By contrast, Icarus is gathering itself for a leap that will soon leave the ground far behind (Stamford Town Center, fifth floor).

As these sculptures stand, they gesture. That is, they seem to stretch or reach or prepare to stride forward. Sentinel draws itself up, as if in warning (Stamford Town Center, fourth floor). This sculpture is sending a message. All the works of art in this immense outdoor exhibition are sending messages, though few are as plain as Sentinel's cautionary gesture - which may not, after all, be entirely lacking in ambiguity. For this is not a sinister presence. It may be trying to tell us that, unless we attend closely, there is much that we will miss. For Hayes builds monumental presences and, when we meet them for the first time, there is a temptation to overlook subtleties.

From certain angles, Geometric Field Figure (Stamford Town Center, fifth floor) has the look of portraiture. Instead of evoking the full human figure, it suggests a face. Addressing us intimately, it draws us close. Yet this sculpture is no less monumental than any of its neighbors. With Geometric Field Figure, the artist offers us portraiture at the scale of the city, and immersed in the currents of urban energy.

Seen in the calm surroundings of an art gallery, these sculptures would be the objects of a detached and leisurely contemplation. Unrushed, the viewer would note the variations of triangular form in Unicorn (Stamford Town Center, fourth floor) or the echoing curves that give a lush, enveloping fullness to Cygne (Tresser and Washington Boulevards). And in time a pervasive sensibility would be detected. One would sense the energies of invention flowing through all of Hayes' sculptures, endowing them with vitality and a characteristic wit. Encounters with these sculptures are very different when they occur in Stamford Downtown or at Stamford Center.

In the city, we're rushed. Reacting at high speed, we rely on first impressions. Passing Oracle as it stand on Bank Street, behind Old Town Hall, you might note little more than a certain suavity of form, a levitating brightness. A bit father on, toward Summer Street, Gladiator might leave you with just a glimpse of tensed energy. If you stopped for a longer look, that energy might reveal certain subtleties - the precisely varied rhythms that tie this sculpture together visually, that give its forms their flexed intensity.

And yet, no matter how thoroughly the work absorbs your attention, you will not feel the hush of the gallery. The city will intrude, with its noise, the pressures of its traffic, the immensity of its space. And this is what the sculptor wants. On an urban site, a work like Gladiator is brought back to is sources. Built from suggestions of the human figure, this sculpture confronts a steady stream of pedestrians as it stands between Main and Bank Streets. Gestural, it finds itself among a gesturing populace. Our response to it may well be more vivid, more immediate here than in a gallery, where the work of art can count on a respectful viewing. Out on the street, it enters a competition with its surroundings - a competition that it wins whenever it becomes the focus of attention, if only for a quick, urban interval. And we win, the city wins, whenever a work of art reinvigorates our perceptions.

Vanishing as we make them, our gestures succeed one another. Once made, a sculptural gesture remains, frozen in view by the nature of the medium. Hayes' sculptures take their forms from a flurry of gestures. Sabrina's gestures flow (Veteran's Park). Young Chanticleer's have a strutting clarity (Stamford Town Center, fifth floor), those of Reclining Figure are languid (Atlantic and Broad Streets). And, in certain of Hayes' sculptures, the forms hardly seem to gesture at all - at most, they lean or tilt or slowly reach into the place they occupy in the overall configuration. These are Hayes' Screen Sculptures. Three of them stand on the triangle bounded by Main Street, West Park Place and Washington Boulevard.

In the Screen Sculptures, form is smaller and more closely nestled than in Hayes' other works. Looking from one metal shape to the next, we see - or feel - a continuity, a flow of sculptural energy. As these shapes proliferate, the currents multiply and intermingle - and we sense that invisible gestures have been made or, in a sense, are still being made, by the sculpture itself. These works are like tangles of vines or groves of trees. Hayes' more figurative sculptures confront us. These offer to envelop us.

Portal Sculpture, which stands near the library on Broad Street, has the horizontal reach of a Screen Sculpture. Yet, as its name suggests, it invites us to walk through it. This is an artist's equivalent of an architectural form - a doorway, to be precise. In Stamford Downtown, the doorways of buildings invite us to enter places of learning, of business, of recreation. This sculptural doorway invites us to enter a state of heightened alertness - and Hayes' other works are on hand to reward us for doing so.

Carter Ratcliff

Carter Ratcliff is a contributing Editor of Art in America and is published in art journals in America and abroad. His most recent book is The Fate of Gesture; Jackson Pollock and Post War American Art.