“A thing is a hole in a thing it is not.”
Guess what happened when I went to the MCA Chicago’s February 9th preview of a new exhibition “This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s”?
Stepped backward into a salt mine.
Backtracked into “The Language of Less.”
Closer to the flattening of desire.
I found another exhibition I liked better.
I guess I wasn’t looking to be convinced by brush strokes, photographic vignettes, or political theater that night. Under some rocks, I found quiet. Borrowing from a language stripped of excessive imagery, five contemporary artists (Leonor Antunes, Carol Bove, Jason Dodge, Gedi Sibony, and Oscar Tuazon) are showcased alongside such Minimalist masters as Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, and Richard Serra in an exhibition called “The Language of Less.” The exhibition is divided into two parts, titled “Then” and “Now.” Through kinship and a shared Romance language, we’re asked to consider the work created by this newer generation in relation to classic Minimalist art from the 1960s and 1970s.
Look! a Frank Stella black pinstripe painting, shaking with starlight (the unromantic kind) even thought it doesn’t want to. There! a piece of canvas (Purple Octagonal, 1967) stretched across a corner of the ceiling. Richard Tuttle must have done that. I’ve always been drawn to Minimalism’s quiet and steady magic—a white rock in a nighttime desert. I suppose it’s because I don’t have to work too hard. I simply have to open my mind and body to experience what’s right in front of me. And whatever’s left, I’ll take it. If I had to write a formula for Minimalism it would look like this:
Intuition (strengthening joint and synovial fluid) + Rock (or matchstick) = > Essence
Land masses, rocks, stones, the materiality so there. Of course, this materiality means including the sensation of a present moment which you cannot ever ignore. Why would you anyway? A Carl Andre sculpture (Zinc-Lead Plane, 1969) asks me to walk across its stone checkerboard of dark and light gray square plates. Which square is denser? The light gray square? Or the dark gray square? The only thing wrong with this sculpture is that the curator, Michael Darling, should have placed it like a dumb doormat at the entrance to one of the exhibition’s rooms. It’s too formal hanging out in the middle of the room, as if on a pedestal. I would have loved to have not seen the sculpture when I first walked into the exhibition. First felt the damn thing, then have my mind play catch up to my body. Oh, well.
The materiality of stone.
The feel of it, the aching in your teeth.
I could walk like this all day.
Again, what’s most satisfying about the art in this show is that it’s “….[b]uilt for use/ Not contemplation. Like how/ About I walk over to you.” Ariana Reines says this in a poem called “Rite Aid” from her latest book, Mercury. I walk through color, line, and surface. I do it a few times until it gets serial, seriously. In the first three rooms, you get all the greats. And while it’s thrilling to see Minimalist landmarks—Dan Flavin’s fluorescent light sculpture, Donald Judd’s stainless steel and plexiglass green boxes forming a disconnected wall staircase, or Richard Serra’s lead leanings (Prop, 1968), I found myself underwhelmed by the newer work. Sure, there’s a shared heritage—the quotidian, the found, the serial, the industrial—but so what? Why wait for some day, when you can have today? How might limiting artistic self-expression as it relates to metaphor still enrich the conversation in Minimal art? Where’s this new place? Where’s the perfect balance? (Think back to Arte Povera…) Antunes, Bove, Dodge, Sibony, and Tuazon all use a similar visual language, but I don’t read a different syntax that might come from 21st century technologies, or even a newer translation, or a funny mistranslation.
Art as stimulant. Art as precision. Art as magic. Art as bravery.
Carol Bove works in ornamentation and decoration. Peacock feather and shells. Patterns and fine chains and toll booths. Jason Dodge positions objects, like a lightning rod in North, a Gilded Lightning Rod Points North (2006). His connected object-works drown in the gallery space. I couldn’t really see or feel anything because his holes were too huge. By the time I crossed over to a place, I had forgotten what it was I was supposed to remember. Dodge likes titles. Check this one: In Lübeck, Germany, Marlies Scholz wove a piece of cloth. She was asked to choose yarn the color of night and equaling the distance (12 km) from the earth to above the weather, (2008). The visual vocabulary is smaller in Oscar Tuazon’s sheet of safety glass shattered on the floor. I think his scraps, fragments and orts are supposed to remind me of Smithson’ mirror works, but it really doesn’t. Leonar Antunes’ camina por ahí. mira por aquí / walk around there. look through here (2011) is probably the most dramatic sculpture in the exhibit. Trapped by a hanging net, Antunes coordinates with a grid system so I’m left stuck in triangular weeds, contemplating the shapes of the world that reoccur. Not a bad place to be, by any means. The netted blackness wasn’t entire, or total, which was cool. But the peek-a-boo game in Gedi Sibony’s The Teller (2011) is un-monumental. Consisting of a drop cloth pinned to the wall, it hangs down unevenly in the space, hiding structure, exposing construction debris. Some people are really into the un-monumental. Sibony’s sculptures might be too dry for me. There’s no real perfume, but maybe that’s the point. The idea of Sibony’s work reminds of the video for Bill Callahan’s “Riding for the Feeling,” with artwork by Max Galyon, where an alpine skier flies perpetually in the air never touching down upon the static, snowy, gray-white mountains. But the three seconds of whooshing wind at the beginning of Callahan’s song feels more tragically impoverished than the whole of Sibony’s room. The idea that “everything is everything” (another song title) lives up to be true. The permission to live in the world, or to recuperate its waste, might be the permission to levitate but I don’t feel as high as I could.