Paul Lee
New Sculptures
February 9–April 27, 2024
Opening reception: Friday, February 9, 6–8 pm

Karma, New York
172 East 2nd Street
New York, New York

Karma presents New Sculptures, an exhibition of works by Paul Lee, on view from February 9 through April 27 at 172 East 2nd Street, New York.

Color, screen, skin: Lee’s sculptures intervene in the fabric of the everyday. For more than two decades, the artist has explored how the residue of touch can live on in quotidian materials and objects, which he alters and combines until they become charged with new signification. The five works in New Sculptures, made from twisted and warped sheets of metal mesh, comprise Lee’s contributions to this expanding oeuvre. These new abstractions extend from the artist’s interest in the formal and symbolic elements of window screens; a screen or veil interfering with vision invites, in his terms, a more subjective relationship to truth, a chance to “see the world on your own terms.” 

In earlier works, Lee integrated mosquito mesh into sculptures made of his signature tambourines, soda cans, and washcloths; New Sculptures focuses solely on the formal potential latent in woven grids of metal. He created these works on the floor of his studio, standing within swaths of his material and manipulating it by hand into crumpled and folded topographies. The history of the artist’s bodily movements is embedded in the resulting sculptures. Creases in mesh hold their shape with little coaxing; the material can’t help but index his material manipulations. 

Lee spray-painted each work using two colors, a strategy he employed for many of his tambourine paintings. He sees his use of discrete, geometric shapes as a way of expanding the legacy of Color Field painting, an effort to “allow desire to exist in color.” His hues have specific connotations: red speaks of desire, purple of the space between male and female, black of the night sky. To connect discrete planes of mesh, he pulled strands of wire off of the sheets’ raw edges, creating sculptures made only out of themselves. Lee’s gridded layers overlap to various degrees of transparency and opacity—at turns obscuring and revealing—building up dense, moiré passages that contrast with the openness of single-ply sheets.

While the artist’s earlier work dealt with frustrated desire and sublimation—tambourines that can’t be shaken, towels decontextualized from the bodies that might use them—these new sculptures represent the body freed from constraints. The works in New Sculptures are in conversation with those made by artists who forged a tradition of nonrepresentational queer art, particularly Ellsworth Kelly, who, in Lee’s words, “speaks of liberation through abstraction.” Here, critical theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s understanding of queerness as an “open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning,” becomes embodied in metal and paint.