Tag Archives: Minimalism

California Minimalist Mary Corse stays the Course at Whitney

Mary Corse: A Survey in Light, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, through November 25, 2018

Traveling to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (the organizing institution), July 28 – November 20, 2019

Mary Corse (b. 1945) has had some substantive recognition among cognoscenti for her measured Minimalist oeuvre, which sometimes has incorporated neon and fluorescent light; however, she has generally been overshadowed by coverage of her West Coast male peers similarly occupied from the mid-1960s.  Perhaps foremost, this show redresses the still lacking female voices of post-Ab Ex abstraction.  Corse was very much in the thick of its optical and spatial concerns and had her own take on white as a reflective hue, explored in geometric arrangements early on.  She soon bolstered different types of white paint, painting grounds, and real illumination with a “glass microsphere” material, crystalized to sandy granules, which added shifting sheen to the monochrome surface.  If you focus on the light per se, the picture plane becomes quietly dizzying.  Corse has continued with apparently strict delimits playing out myriad proportionally-sectored possibilities.  A major revelation came in the mid-1970s with the addition of less finely ground black microspheres, which have the effect of shimmering sequins and add, unwittingly or not, add a metaphoric universe to her studio-laboratory aesthetic.  Unfortunately, only one of those is included here. New Yorkers were treated to a roomful of related, more recent and expansive works at Lehman Maupin Gallery last fall (2017)—more thrilling, overall, than this show, which is, however, deserved and important.  Two diptych-type sculptures from 1965, each consisting of elongated wood and Plexiglas triangular white columns that appear to change shape when viewed from different angles, are as confident in their Minimalist mien as Robert Morris’s famous “3 L’s” of the same year that came to define it (now in the Whitney’s permanent collection).

 

Buildings and Blocks: The Bechers, LeWitt, and Andre at Paula Cooper

Bernd and Hilla Becher: In Dialogue with Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt, at Paula Cooper, 534 W. 21st St., through May 5, 2018.

The Bechers (German; he, d. 2007; she, d. 2015) worked together as one compositional and conceptual photographic eye for nearly fifty years.  Picking up on the artistic objectivity of August Sander before WWII in his encyclopedic images of human subjects, they turned to architecture, mainly industrial.  Each geometric-based structure is seen/shot from several viewpoints and arranged in flattened grids—a kind of reverse Cubist pictorial methodology.  As segmented presentations they bear close relation to the serial arrangements of Minimalism, furthered by a purposeful monochrome sans shadows that sustains focus on each subject-as-such.  Like Minimalist sculpture as well, they speak to the twentieth-century constructed environment for posterity, albeit through taxonomic-like, full-bodied representations.

Whereas, those now considered seminal Minimalists spoke through structural “excerpts”—a la LeWitt, (American, d. 2007) who then expanded them in 2D and 3D formats through formulaic repetitions increasingly for decades.  It helps to know about this aspect of his oeuvre to appreciate the elemental works here, but also to take reciprocal cues from the backdrop of Bechers, as was the curatorial plan.  Thus, LeWitt’s anti-volumetric, somewhat quizzical and idiosyncratic objects (to adapt Donald Judd’s enduring discourse, “Specific Objects,” 1965) also imply DNA-like building blocks.

Andre (b. 1935), a cohort of LeWitt in New York-based Minimalism’s 1970s heyday, is represented here by thick, square floor structures of rough-hewn wood beams—hollow boxes or frames, post-millennial in date but stubbornly consistent with the bulk (literally and figuratively) of his oeuvre.  Imposing in their deliberate simplicity, they are more bounded presences than LeWitt’s linear “links.” For the less informed, this juxtaposition is effective in conveying the potential diversity within Minimalist aesthetics, analogical and extending to the Becher material.  For a priori fans like myself, the stripped, ironic elegance associated with  all parties involved will be reaffirmed.  Make sure to take in the gallery’s expansive, bare-bones beam and I-bar ceiling to experience the full implications of the display.

Works by Bernd and Hilla Becher, Carl Andre, and Sol Lewitt installed at the Paula Cooper Gallery (4/17/18).

 

 

Geometric Variations: Odita; Rhode; Johnson

Odili Donald Odita: Third Sun; through Feb. 10 at Jack Shainman, 513 W. 20th St. (Chelsea)

Robin Rhode: The Geometry of Color; through Feb. 24 at Lehman Maupin, 536 W. 22nd St. (Chelsea).

Kelley Johnson: Slow Hum; through Feb. 4  at Freight & Volume, 97 Allen St. (LES)

A key theme in the group of recent abstract paintings at Shainman by Odili Donald Odita is celebration (according to the press release).  Yes.  Odita’s sharply juxtaposed, color spectrum-spanning, slices and shards pop back, forth and across these flat pictures as viewers approach and recede.  Odita has already mastered this post-Minimalist terrain, climactic in his public murals; he continues here to mine its infinite potential when it comes to visceral variation–especially with nuanced chromatics.  With each work momentarily mesmerizing, collective dynamics include: tension between perceived patterns and their disruption: illusionistic spatial shifts, algorithmic autonomous patterning, and attention to color theory; plus, not least extra-formalist design inspiration (e.g., textiles; architecture).  Above all, the presiding staggered-dagger motif sets the body, as well as the eyes, abuzz.

Robin Rhodes also creates outdoor murals with geometric foundations; however, in socially subversive contexts.  Namely, on city walls in Johannesburg (S.A.)—a la authentic graffiti, with which he then interacts in performances.   At Lehman Maupin, these projects are completed (as it were) as art photographs. The painted backdrops recall, variously, point-to-line-to-plane Kandinsky, Sol Lewitt’s systematic faux-frescos, and, occasionally, simplified archetypal symbols as embedded in local traditions of façade decoration in the region.  The superimposition of Rhodes’s own silhouette in various poses conjures Banksy and Bauhaus mashed into absurdist street ballet.  Collectively, the framed up rhythmic arrangements bind together, bounce, and juggle such myriad associations.

Flip side to Odita’s crisp-cut partitioning by trading on related geometric coin are the recent airy works of Kelley Johnson at Freight & Volume.  Johnson has left tape strips and over-stepped masking edges intermittently and strategically around his striped and scaffolded compositions, through which white space peaks in, often in sectional, horizontal bands.  To use the sonic metaphor of Kelley’s exhibition title: a distillation of Odita’s big  band to a low (as well as slow) hum.   Leavening classic Minimalist monochrome with pop-neon color and, in a few sculptures, more fragile structure for which kites were Kelley’s inspiration, the hand-tinged element tempers his neo-geo modality with somewhat ironic, off-beat charm.

 

 

Double Whammy at Zwirner: Ad Reinhardt; Ruth Asawa

At David Zwirner, 537 W. 20th, through October 21:

Ad Reinhardt: Blue Paintings (ground floor)

Ruth Asawa (upstairs)

The only (NYC) gallery show in recent memory to compare in sublimity to this  Reinhardt “blues” display is last winter’s  Rothko at Pace.  Through the oeuvre of both artists, the primary subject, object, and effect is a palpable, pulsating “aura” uncannily emanating from pigment and turpentine.  The proto-Minimalist, monochrome monk, Reinhardt (1913-1967) is best known for his late paintings of barely perceptible black-on-black geometry.  And yet, for decades previously,  he was nothing if not a colorist in the wake of, well, Matisse–if anyone is uniformed or skeptical on that count, this show will dispel that.  Not only does each work present nothing but blues,  but each also, simultaneously, may conjure window, sky, sea, air, iconic spirituality—pace Reinhardt’s committed art-secular, non-objective motives and intentions.  Yet, especially in terms of “spirit,” once viewers engage his results, some (like me) might surmise he had far more in common with Malevich’s precedent Suprematism than he consciously wished to realize.

The wire basketry abstraction of Asawa (1926-1913) is a tensile and delicate dialectical balance of surrealist-like whimsy and danger, mystery and rationality, magic and labor, soft and sharp, shape and line.  Most characteristically, hanging, curving lamp-like objects of macramé-ish woven wire are comprised of a core and an encasement of the same manufacture around it—a bottle-in-a-bottle, double-mesh mirage.  The wire also can read as twig like, nature-bound trompe-l’oeil in several symmetrical wall “mandalas.”  Asawa‘s back-story, as survivor of a WWII-era Japanese internment camp and rise in the art sphere as a serious abstractionist in an era and sphere thoroughly dominated by men, is more than reason enough to pay homage.   But the art itself will make a lasting impression analogous to a gorgeous tattoo that remains haunted by its haptic birthing pain.

“Ruth Asawa” exhibition at Zwirner (10/14/17)

Neo-Geo’s Finest Hour: Frank Stella at the Whitney

“Frank Stella: A Retrospective”

Whitney Museum of American Art, through Feb. 7, 2016

It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at pre-c. 1990 Stella in person rather than reproduction–as usual, indescribably worth it vis-a-vis true appreciation for the crafted subtleties that were central to his early painting project as a whole.   Definitely forgot the buzzy spill-over into Op-artiness.  Once the 3-D elements set in, the separation of painting and sculpture blows up in a way that fulfills Donald Judd’s observations and prescriptions in “Specific Objects” (1965), in which he praised, as the right direction, Stella’s then novel shaped canvases.  Yet, Stella remains a painter in the mind as Picasso does in the gut–the few ingenious sculptures featured in his current MoMA show not withstanding.  Put another way: like the mythic earlier master, when Stella  does go full out 3D, whether in throw-back modernist table top constructions or the colossal computer-generated “stars” landed on the 4th floor outdoor patio, a bold but studied negotiation of forms consolidates into a material and intellectual solution with a punch.

While not a hint of figuration appears in the 50-year coverage on view, individual works take on distinct personalities, ironically.  At a certain point, definitively established from around 1990, the works turn from graphic experiments to buoyant, or angry, or contemplative, or meditative (etc.) “presences” — the goal of abstraction, in the end, according to the early accolades of long-time critical supporter, Michael Fried.

For anyone (still) ambivalent about “non-objective” art per se, this show could turn you.

 

Easter Island Heads through a Brancusi Blender: Colossal Chromed Portraits by Not Vital

At Sperone Westwater, through Oct. 4.

The direction of Not Vital’s recent work is well-suited to the slightly futuristic SW space; here amorphous portrait heads cast in highly reflective, gun-metal-toned steel.

Not Vital at Sperone Westwater (photo: 9/19/14)
Not Vital at Sperone Westwater (photo: 9/20/14)

Vital now shares sculptural DNA with Jeff Koons and Anish Kapoor in his pursuit of technological fetish finish.

The requisite, reflected selfie in one of Vital's "heads."
Self in “head” (at Sperone Westwater, 9/20/14).

A group of drawings, ostensibly loose portraits of one subject, depict similarly stretched biomorphic orbs, though rough-hewn, chalky, and matte. Smudges and sometimes tape masking can suggest both auras and a struggle for essential cohesion.

ICYMI in SW’s group show this summer (see post, 8/10/14), Vital’s light-bouncing, pock-marked, Moon (2011) remains on view as an addendum to the portraits, providing insight into his scope of exploration with the medium.

Not Vital, "Moon" (2011; stainless steel)
Not Vital, “Moon” (2011; photo 8/10/14, Sperone Westwater)

Sculpture: Minimalism (Sperone Westwater) / Maximalism (Nancy Rubins at Gagosian)

“Sculpture”; Sperone Westwater (Bowery), through August 15.

“Nancy Rubins: Our Friend Fluid Metal”; Gagosian (21st Street), through September 15.

If Koons’s flawless shine fetish has fascinated the masses and cognoscenti alike (for the most part), dominating art-social media-NYC this summer in an endless flood of fun-house selfies, a mirror ball of another ilk—namely an equally gleaming, though pockmarked moon by Not Vital, has landed at Sperone Westwater.

Not Vital, "Moon" (2011; stainless steel)
Not Vital, “Moon” (2011; stainless steel) [click to enlarge]
Gazing at this fallen celestial orb feels very different than clowning into a Koons, although, it compels, likewise, to take that side-long self-glance, if not a money shot of our narcissism. The work rests in a sublime installation on the third floor of SW’s Gagosian-challenging new-ish Bowery HQ; which also includes a vermilion-lacquered, half-stairway to … oblivion, or a fourth dimension behind the wall, by Wolfgang Laib (2002), a ritualistic circle of puzzle-piece rock fragments by walking artist extraordinaire, Richard Long, and a heavy wood abstraction in the shape of an inverted tau, which also suggests an altar, by Carle Andre (pace Andre’s distaste for content association—true, as well, it couldn’t be more formally Minimal).

Third fl. installation view, Sperone Westerwater; with "Moon," a R. Long (1996; granite) and a Carl Andre (1992; cedar timbers)
Third floor at  Sperone Westerwater (partial view); with “Moon,” a R. Long (1996; granite) and a Carl Andre (1992; cedar timbers)

Each floor of this group show has similarly intriguing juxtapositions as well as engaging specific works by an inter-generational, international roster; with more mirroring on the ground floor in the proto-disco assemblages (one, kinetic) of Heinz Mack, c. 1960.

Heinz Mack, "Kleiner Stelenwald" (1960; brass, with motor)
Heinz Mack, “Kleiner Stelenwald” (1960; brass, with motor)

Back then, the reflective surface was just taking off in pop culture and contemporary art, après Brancusi (prominent in works by many emerging NY-based artists at the time, including R. Smithson, R. Morris, Y. Kusama, L. Samaras).

***

Nancy Rubins was a memorable hit at the 1995 Whitney Biennial with a floating, twerked and bound mattress installation featuring creamy supermarket cakes smushed into the crevices, evoking a post-industrial Tiepolo. (Digression: bed and mattress show, dedicated to R. Rauschenberg’s famous MoMA Bed 1955, with Rubins, Guillermo Kuitca, Tracy Emin, Sarah Lucas, Pepon Ossorio . . . ?)*  In the interim, Rubins got into heavy-metal assemblages that also defied gravity, with the origins of the fragment components more and less discernible—rambunctious off-spring of later Frank Stellas. Twenty years hence, the three works currently on view at Gagosian are again bouncing off the ceiling, as well as walls and floor—dense clouds of recycled junk (Shinique Smith is one heir), including a proliferation of defunct, old-school springing playground or low-rent carnival rides in the form of sea-foamy-tinted, kitschy-toy, zoomorphic cross-breeds.

Nancy Rubins, at Gagosian Gallery, 522 W. 21st St., summer 2014
Nancy Rubins, at Gagosian Gallery, 522 W. 21st St., summer 2014

. . .  Abandoned, twister-blown, small-town toddler amusement park gracefully re-coagulated, tumbles and hovers into the white cube.

Nancy Rubins, detail
Nancy Rubins, detail

*Re: “bed show”; update (11/1/15): I was unaware,  when I posted this, of the comprehensive exhibition at 21er Haus, Vienna, “Sleepless: The Bed in History and Contemporary Art,” (Jan.-June 2015), including several of these artists.