Impressions

Ecstatic Alphabet/Heap of Langauge and Tom Sachs

I am really blessed to live in NYC, as well as have days like today, when I can sample from some of its bounty.

Just as I was finishing up work early, a friend emailed to remind me about Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Langauge at MoMA, a survey of text-based art. A very well-edited selection of 20th c. works on paper and printed works are on view, followed by a larger gallery with bigger projects by contemporary artists.

Among the first half-dozen works viewers will encounter are:

I was hooked. My favorite discoveries in the modern section were:

Marcel Broodthaers. Un Coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard. 1969. // Source: moma.org.

Marcel Broodthaers. Un Coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard. 1969. // Source: moma.org.

Marcel Broodthaers‘ version of Stéphane Mallarmé’s “Un Coupe de Dés…” Simple redaction rectangles on translucent vellum. Hints of what will come, and what has past, is visible. The book is time, and the open spread the present moment. It’s such a simple idea, but so well executed, that its elegance is quite profound. Being moved by simple gestures is always welcome.

Carl Andre‘s now now (1967). I have mixed feelings about Andre, but the textual/typographic gesture was so simple, yet so evocative of objects in space, that I really had a durational experience, to my surprise. (See it on page 2 of this exhibition PDF.)

There were many more works I enjoyed by Henri Chopin and Christopher Knowles. Of course, it’s really amazing and cool that Robert Smithson‘s Heap of Language is on view.

The contemporary gallery provided a nice opportunity to see Shannon Ebner‘s large photos of landscape interventions, as well as Tauba Auerbach‘s paintings.

Tauba Auerbach, RGB Colorspace Atlas (Volume 1), 2011, Digital offset printing on mohawk superfine paper, 3200 pages, linen, binder's board, acrylic paint Measurements for closed book Binding: Daniel E. Kelm and Leah H. Purcell at the Wide Awake Garage in Easthampton, USA Edition of 3 / SOTA/S 2011-036/1. // Source: StandardOslo.no.

Tauba Auerbach, RGB Colorspace Atlas (Volume 1), 2011, Digital offset printing on mohawk superfine paper, 3200 pages, linen, binder’s board, acrylic paint Measurements for closed book Binding: Daniel E. Kelm and Leah H. Purcell at the Wide Awake Garage in Easthampton, USA Edition of 3 / SOTA/S 2011-036/1. // Source: StandardOslo.no.

Tauba Auerbach, RGB Colorspace Atlas. (2011). // Source: Rhizome.org.

Tauba Auerbach, RGB Colorspace Atlas. (2011). // Source: Rhizome.org.

Most of all, Auerbach’s recent RGB Colorspace Atlas series was ingenious and visually lush. They’re books—blank, hardbound, filled with pages so that it forms a perfect cube. Then, it’s airbrushed to create an RGB colorspace. Six examples are on view—three closed, three open—and they’re breathtakingly beautiful.

Paul Elliman. My Typographies (2). 1994 Paul Elliman (British, b. 1961). My Typographies (2). 1994. Photogram, 11 x 14" (27.9 x 35.6 cm) Courtesy the artist. © Paul Elliman. // Source: moma.org.

Paul Elliman. My Typographies (2). 1994 Paul Elliman (British, b. 1961). My Typographies (2). 1994. Photogram, 11 x 14″ (27.9 x 35.6 cm) Courtesy the artist. © Paul Elliman. // Source: moma.org.

I also appreciated getting to know the work of Paul Elliman (British, b. 1961), whose Found Fount series is a series of typologies of odds and ends. (Fount/Foundry/Font, get it?) The objects are on view, but the photograms are also very enjoyable.

A few weeks ago, I decided to switch directions in the studio and give text-based art a rest to see what would happen to my work. I was afraid that working with text might be too easy or formulaic, and result in art that is too quick a read. Ecstatic Alphabets/Heap of Language reminded me of the joy of elegant solutions—textual or not—and my love of the printed page.

The crowds were in full force for Free Fridays at MoMA, rewarding persistence and patience. About a mile uptown, I visited Tom Sachs’ Space Program: Mars, organized by Park Avenue Armory and Creative Time.

Tom Sachs. Creative Time/Park Avenue Armory. Source: CreativeTime.org.

Tom Sachs. Creative Time/Park Avenue Armory. Source: CreativeTime.org.

Tom Sach's Space Program: Mars. Source: Park Avenue Armory newsletter.

Tom Sach’s Space Program: Mars. Source: Park Avenue Armory newsletter.

It was my first visit to the Armory. I knew that art and antique fairs are held there, so I understood that it is a huge space. Still, nothing quite prepared me for turning the corner of the sole freestanding wall in the Armory, and seeing the expanse of space populated by precisely-lit installations/stage sets as well as various artist-made (or artist’s studio-made) space vehicles.

The show was unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and I found myself at a loss for words. I don’t want to ruin the experience for anyone, so I’ll leave you with the fragment M shared with me: “It’s so earnest.” The exhibition continues through June 17. I recommend attending a public program, such as the Demonstrations. And allow lots of time.

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Art & Development

Artist Tauba Auerbach on the natural bases of grids

A COMMON CRITICAL READING of the grid casts it as the essential symbol of technology and human contrivance—the signal structure of modernism—cold, impersonal, and famously called “anti-natural” by Rosalind Krauss in her 1978 essay “Grids.” In my view, however, the grid could not be closer to nature; it is the direct and rebellious offspring of gravity. The first relationship between the grid and gravity is one of accordance. By pulling perpendicular to the surface of the earth, gravity installs the right angle as a cardinal feature of our physical world. Perpendicular relationships are naturally recurrent and omnipresent. A basic grid is an accretion of these relationships, intersections of horizontal and vertical lines—like those formed by a liquid’s surface drawn level by gravity and the path of a falling object, respectively: Materials succumbing to the force create x- and y-axes.

The second relationship is one that weds rebellion and submission, a fleeting union, as the rebellions are only ever temporarily successful. A tree most efficiently resists the force of gravity by growing straight upward—at a ninety-degree angle to the horizon. The vertical charge of life is in fact the act of fleeing an inevitable state of horizontality, death. The leveling force of gravity literally ages us, drawing us down until we cannot go down any farther. Here gravity and its opposition trace the axes.

The third relationship is one in which the grid itself is the opposition to gravity. In this broader case, the definition of grid should be expanded, as it is in Grid Index, to include tilings—coverings of the plane in which there is no excess of space or overlap between constituent shapes. The entropic event of ice melting, for instance, sets geometric tiling against gravity’s pull toward decay and disorder, taking the gridded (albeit inconsistent) crystalline structure and rendering it an amorphous molecular soup. Similarly, but in the reverse order, crystal structures grow more consistently and easily in zero gravity—even forming in unlikely substances like plasmas—without their entropic enemy. If gravity is a protagonist in the plot of entropy, then the order of the grid is its natural and valiant, although doomed, antagonist.

—Tauba Auerbach, “Out of Order” Book review of Grid Index by Cartsen Nicolai (Berlin: Gestalten, 2009), Artforum, 2010
[To see the article, visit Artforum.com, register or log-in, and search for Auerbach.]

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