Paul Neagu's Hyphen Sculptures
by Donald Kuspit

Hyphen, from the Greek 'hyph' hen," means "under one" or "into one," that is, "together." The hyphen is a connector, linking elements usually thought of as antithetical and irreconcilable It thus accomplishes a kind of miracle, bringing together what ordinarily seems to exist autonomously and apart, and creating something new in the process. Indeed, it has been argued that such a seemingly absurd process is creativity in dialectical action: things that don't seem meant to work together unexpectedly do so, to the enlightenment and benefit of everyone, What seemed unnatural and impossible suddenly becomes normal and predictable.

But Paul Neagu's hyphen raises an important question: does the hyphen force the union, as it were, or does it merely propose and suggest its possibility? Does it express the wish for togetherness or its reality? Does the hyphen acknowledge an inherent tendency to unity among incommensurate things - but not necessarily its realization does the hyphen convey the actuality and durability of unity? Neagu's hyphen construction is intriguing by reason of its absurdity. On the one hand, it is a convincing unity - a kind of occult balance - of ostensibly incongruous parts: three legs curving toward the ground and ending in clawlike points, support a large rectangle. On the other hand, the discrepancy between the parts is glaring, to the extent that we feel the construction is about to fail apart or lose its balance arid collapse - that it is all too tentative. And yet it is stable enough, however much it stands precariously on tiptoe, like a bizarre ballet dancer poised to spring - the elongated third leg, attached to the center of one side of the rectangle, is a kind of leap of faith in itself - and however tense the relationship between its parts.

But tension is just the point - tension is what makes Neagu's construction poetic, indeed, epic and lyric at once. Each of its parts is minimal enough - a kind of line of simple geometrical poetry - yet together their effect is monumental. In other words, the hyphen, a contradiction in terms, embodies both the dynamics of integration and the vulnerability to disintegration -- as a true hyphen does It fuses libido and the death drive, with no clear sense of which is dominant. The uncertainty of the construction overwhelms the self-evidence of its parts.

Much can - and has - been read into Neagu's hyphen, by himself and others. Neagu has given each part a different imaginative interpretation, ranging from the intimate to the cosmological. Indeed, the piece is a kind of religious symbol - a mannerist cross for our strange times. The three legs in particular lend themselves to the extensive symbolism associated with the trinity. Thus, one of the short legs represents body (weight), women, mother, and has a positive charge, while the other represents soul (skill), man, father, and has a negative charge (one detects an old-fashioned sexist division of meanings here. although the archetypes implied are emotionally inescapable), and the long diagonal leg represents God, Spirit, Wind, and Son, and is neutral. That is, it symbolizes trio passage between the opposites - the passage which unites them, and thus creates something new. The rectangle represents horizontal rain - an omen, no doubt - and the whole work is contained in a "gradually going tornado," that is, an abysmal vortex. (Does Neagu mean to recall Vorticism?)

In another chart of meaning, the rectangle is a "platform of manifestation and performance" - a kind of altar. (Indeed, the whole construction is a kind of portable avant-garde altar - an altar for a world without religion, but in unconscious search for it.) The triangle formed by the legs, with their "impulsive curves of natural spontaneity," is a zone of abysmal darkness of the "uncreated." Symbolic meaning is piled upon symbolic meaning, all eloquently supported by the thin, seemingly frail legs of the structure. Neagu cloaks the work in conceptual enigma, but in and of itself it is enigmatic - its genuinely enigmatic form is Neagu's true achievement. Neagu manipulates its material endlessly, but the mystery of the form endures beyond its various materializations. The platform becomes a stage on which various other format performances occur, all (over?) loaded with meaning - urgently "filled" with all kinds of ideas, including political ones (there is clearly an intellectually additive character to Neagu's hyphen, which leads one to think of it as a conceptual performance) - but it is the form as such which remains convincing and resonant. I happen to like the sculpture in which the hyphen metamorphosizes - and it seems infinitely protean, as though constantly regenerating itsel - into a skull, because it accords with my sense of the existential urgency implicit in the tension of its parts. Indeed, for me it is a kind of weird creature, at once prehistoric and post-historic, that is, apocalyptic - a symbol of the psyche at its most existential. Neagu's hyphen is a terse, epigrammatic embodiment of the psyche's lifelong struggle to balance the conflicting interests that form it.

Art historically speaking, Neagu's hyphen is, as I have suggested, a mannerist construction. It is an ingenious late modernist example of the art of the irregular, as Gustav RenČ Hocke calls it, that has run parallel to the art of the regular, exemplified by the High Renaissance, and that has been less honored than it, because perfect regularity is the signature of a harmony that does not exist except as an ideal. More particularly, Neagu's hyphen brings the geometrical elements of Malevich's aerodynamic Suprematism together into a singular three-dimensional construction. But where Malevich's Suprematist icon conveyed a certain optimism, even utopianism, Neagu's equally iconic hyphen is a peculiarly realistic object. It needs no theory to be convincing, for it articulates, with dramatic directness, this century's failure to achieve even the semblance of harmony, indeed, its suicidal anti-harmony. Only art can make the potentially destructive tension of a hyphen seem like an ironical new form of harmony.