On view in Chelsea right now are three gallery shows that offer drastically different takes contemporary takes on minimalism. Two are from classic minimalist artists: Robert Irwin and Richard Tuttle (who both have shows at Pace gallery outposts) have pioneered the movement since its first flowering in the 1960s. In comparison to these gentlemen, the third artist is kind of a gutter punk, but the crusty, abject work of Mark Flood might be the most engaging riff on minimalism’s fading grandeur.
At Pace’s skinny-yet-deep 510 West 25th Street garage, Robert Irwin is showing a trio of transparent columns that don’t stretch all the way to the ceiling but still extend far out of human reach. The columns are created from intersecting prisms arranged like the intersection of two triangles. It’s easier to see the effects of the composition rather than pin the structure down exactly: as other viewers pass behind the columns, they suddenly disappear into blank blocks of light. Seen through the column, gallery-goers are cast in rainbow haloes as they ripple and distort along the acrylic’s glossy surface.
The columns are beautiful objects but they are also anti-objects. The art occurs in the eye, in our newly changed perception and our awareness of how our perception has been shifted by the sculptures. At its core, Irwin’s work has always been about changing perception, from his diaphanous scrim installations to optical-illusion wall pieces. The columns are another beautiful exercise in the same principals, but, particularly given that they were conceptualized decades ago and not executed until 2007, the pieces also feel a little airless and otherworldly. They belong back in that apex of minimalism when it was still possible to believe that a perfect surface could change the world.
Mark Flood has none of Irwin’s piety. The Houston-based Flood has burst back onto the New York art scene with a recent show at the uptown Luxembourg & Dayan gallery and now a solo exhibition at Zach Feuer gallery in Chelsea. Where the uptown show included an array of work ranging from older collages and slapdash text paintings to recent lace canvases, Flood’s Feuer exhibition is starkly uniform. In the center of the space is a column of text paintings emblazoned with a characteristically vitriolic attack on the art world: “WHORE MUSEUMS GUTLESS COLLECTORS BLIND DEALERS ALLEGED ARTISTS.” The gallery’s other canvases are slightly subtler.
Arranged around the center column are a series of large, non-objective abstractions that look like Mark Rothko canvases painted in a garbage dump. The paintings have dark rectangular centers surrounded by wide frames of white or gray web that look as though the artist used discarded construction barriers as stencil material. They’re strict and foreboding, but even in their simplicity retain a caustic sense of humor. The canvases extend a middle finger to art history while remaining painterly, a tough balance to strike.
Richard Tuttle’s sculptural minimalism is based on materials that might appear found if they weren’t so perfectly matched. Commercial products, daily tools, and construction materials become fodder for sculptures that balance precipitously between formally successful and unbearably twee. Tuttle’s Pace show at 534 West 25th Street is no different: The sculptures can be aggressively banal, as in one example of a curtain rod with an embroidered cloth over it, laying on a plinth. Other pieces are more dramatic: one large jungle gym-like structure is piled with foam and fiber packing materials.
A rear gallery features Tuttle’s small sculptures, each no larger than a fist. They are loose, DIY in the sense of a summer-camp craft class, and appear one after another in a rhythmic sequence. Some of the pieces miss fleeting poetry and end up flat, which is a danger with work as improvisatory feeling as Tuttle’s. The artist echoes Flood’s attitude-driven iconoclasm but in a much more refined, less aggressive form that today, unfortunately, lacks the younger artist’s momentum. Tuttle’s sense of humor is that of New Yorker cartoons rather than gross-out band posters — great when they succeed, pretentious when they don’t.
Robert Irwin’s Dotting the I’s & Crossing the t’s: Part II runs at Pace (510 West 25th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan and 32 East 57th Street, Midtown, Manhattan) through October 20.
Mark Flood’s ARTSTAR runs at Zach Feuer (548 West 22nd Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through October 13.
Richard Tuttle’s Systems, VIII-XII runs at Pace (534 West 25th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through October 13.
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