Alan Saret
The Rest of Me
May 3–June 22, 2024
Opening reception: Friday, May 3, 6–8 pm

22, 172, & 188 East 2nd Street
New York

Karma presents The Rest of Me, a multivenue exhibition of work by Alan Saret, open from May 3 to June 22 at 22, 172, and 188 East 2nd Street, New York.

Across all three of the gallery’s New York locations, Karma presents more than 180 never-before-seen works by Alan Saret dating from 1975 to the present. At 22 East 2nd Street, a selection of representational drawings and paintings reveal Saret’s complex knowledge of spiritual traditions from around the world and across time. The calligraphic works on paper Saret calls “dharanis,” on view at 172 East 2nd Street, are accompanied by a recorded selection of songs written and performed by the multidisciplinary artist, accessible to the public for the first time. Finally, at 188 East 2nd Street, Saret shares a body of kaleidoscopic works on paper and sculptures rooted in his studies of geometry. Though he is best known for his wire sculptures and spontaneous pencil drawings, Saret’s geometric, figurative, and text-based works are an essential, underrecognized element of his oeuvre. The Rest of Me reveals the depth and variety of Saret’s six-decade-long practice.

Born in 1944 in Manhattan, Saret’s early fascination with drawing and the built environment led him to study architecture at Cornell University, during which time he assisted the visionary ecological architect Paolo Soleri. The latter’s unorthodox working methods and philosophically-informed aesthetics inspired Saret’s own approach to artmaking. Working in a studio in SoHo while studying art at Hunter College upon his return to New York City in 1965, Saret experimented with wire cloth and strand wire as a support for paintings. The morphological archetypes of his sculptures emerged from these early investigations into the pliable material’s structural potential. His resulting works took on forms reminiscent of tumbleweeds, crashing waves, clouds, and mountains. 

The earliest drawings in The Rest of Me, on view at 22 East 2nd Street, belong to a group of representational works, the earliest versions of which were first shown in his second solo exhibition in 1970 at Bykert Gallery. These scenes pull from both Eastern and Western spiritual traditions, including tarot, Tantra, and ancient Egyptian polytheism, and portray mortal and divine figures, often in speculative landscapes. The Great Stair Place drawings of 1975, hung together on the east wall, envision an arcadian landscape of mountains connected by curving flights of trussed stairs. The steps reference The India Ramp (1971), a bamboo-and-hardwood ramp leading to nowhere that was Saret’s contribution to that year’s India Trienniale. Saret remained in the country for the nearly three years following the Trienniale, eventually immersing himself in the self-inquiry doctrine of Sri Ramana Maharshi. A group of pencil-and-acrylic works on paper from 1979, hung on an adjacent wall, follow the artist’s written directions to “describe all the relationships in the cosmos you are dreaming about.” In Thou Shalt Not Die, an arching figure leaps across a river of fire. Set against a dark, swirling ground reminiscent of Saret’s dense sculptural forms, the man and angel in Transformation are depicted at a foundry, a reference to alchemy that suggests the influence of religious and mythological systems other than those Saret discovered in India. Finally, a third group of pencil drawings, made between 1995 and 2002, relate to Saret’s efforts to establish, in his words, “ideal and archetypal life attitudes and activities” through endeavors such as Spring Palace, an alternate exhibition space inside of his studio in the early 1970s, and Ghosthouse, an outdoor mesh structure that he inhabited for several months in 1975 at Artpark in Lewiston, New York.

The dharanis displayed at 172 East 2nd Street, made between 2011 and 2014, also emerged from Saret’s studies of spirituality. In Buddhism and Hinduism, a dharani is a sacred, mantra-like phrase to, as he recounts, “recall one’s ideal” during daily activities. Hand-lettered with broad calligraphy nibs and translucent ink, Saret’s marks vary subtly in tone, giving these works a handmade quality. Applying his understanding of geometry and space to the written word, Saret plays with color, alliteration, and slanted rhymes. Words like whole, alive, eye, blaze, heart, sun, and breathe reoccur, building a conceptual bridge between the human body and the cosmos. The dharanis are accompanied by homemade recordings of Saret playing guitar and singing. He began writing these songs in the early 1970s and continues to compose music to this day. 

The wide array of Saret’s geometric compositions on view at 188 East 2nd Street attest to his devoted, decades-long exploration of what he sees as the abstract spatial order at the basis of creation. The drafting skills he acquired as an architectural student enabled Saret ro create the majority of these works during a period that began in 1999 when his computer crashed. During this introspective period, he spent long hours at his drafting desk in an unheated studio, hands warmed by drawing lamps, and taught himself to use a ruling pen, an antiquated drafting tool that holds ink between two steel blades adjusted by a screw to vary line weight. The simplicity of the ruling pen allows for easy cleaning, which enables uncomplicated color changes to facilitate the legibility of many layers of information. Marking the intersections of sloped and orthogonal lines, the artist often exhausts the English alphabet, extending into characters in Greek, Sanskrit, Tamil, Hebrew, Runes, letters modified by dots, bars, and numbers. His sustained study ultimately led to the discovery of a network of Pythagorean triangles—to his knowledge previously unexplored in mathematics—that he calls “Add Q” after the Medieval architectural system “Ad Quadratum.” Other geometric investigations show Saret exploring the relations of six-and-eightfold forms in the Sachem’s Schema drawings of 2006; polygon studies demonstrating how shapes stellate and form rings, dyads, and spirals (1997– ); and Star Knots & Manifolds (2002/24) with their unicursal loops and weaving. Finally, the presentation also includes a new group of sculptures called Star Rings (2024), where strips of wood woven into pentagrams form larger pentagons. 

Saret’s abstractions are guided equally by his own intuition and the logic internal to geometry, and thus are at once testaments to individual creativity and to the possibilities inherent in the most basic building blocks of all forms. As with his wire sculptures, the geometric drawings consist of congeries of lines that meet at intersecting points to construct larger, more complex networks, appearing to grow and mutate. Many of these compositions involve concentric rings of eight Pythagorean triangles which can be extended outward infinitely into space and inwardly to a point. By tapping into fundamentals in these and the other works on view in The Rest of Me, Saret continues his project of recovering, in his words, “true being” amid the complexity of the world.