Its foundation, necessarily, is virtuosity. When it transcends the banality of virtuosity-for-its-own-sake, it does so only by great effort and the application of a truly — magnificently — perverse intelligence.
It’s hard to know whether, in these less successful works, Kirkeby is insufficiently virtuosic or insufficiently perverse. But there is a dispiriting aspect to them: They take up so much space; they amount to so little.
More rousing are Kirkeby’s bronze sculptures. These alternate between lumpy, prehistoric forms that rise implacably and asymmetrically from their bases, and smaller, square brick-like structures that resemble freshly-laid foundations, or, alternatively, lingering ruins.
“The role of art,” Kirkeby has said, “is to accept that things break down. That’s the only way to get something new to emerge.”
Sebastian Smee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.