Space Betweenby Samuel Feldblum
The FLAG Art Foundation | June 3 – August 14, 2015
When I could find voice, I shrieked aloud in agony, “either this is madness or it is Hell.” “It is neither,” calmly replied the voice of the Sphere, “it is Knowledge; it is Three Dimensions: open your eye once again and try to look steadily.”
Edwin Abbott, Flatland
Peter Schjeldahl, speaking with Jarrett Earnest in the July/August issue of the Rail, pointed out that sculpture can be “irritating” because, unlike some of its peers, it competes for space with the viewer. We wonder “what it is, why it’s there, and when it will go away.” With that in mind, the works on view in FLAG Art Foundation’s Space Between offer a somewhat gentler entry into the third dimension, and perhaps a more amicable viewing experience. Inspired by a pair of recent Ellsworth Kelly works on view, the show explores the rift and link between two-dimensional and three-dimensional work.
The two Kellys, Blue Relief Over Green (2004) and Dark Red Relief with White (2005), set the template for many of the works in the show: solid-color rectangular canvases, wherein the image wraps around to the side of the rectangle, forming a prism. Kelly stacks two such canvases atop one another, gesturing gracefully toward the physicality of his art.
Nearby, Tony DeLap’s Mystry Man (1984), an oversized shark’s-tooth-shaped canvas in gray, warps its z-axis, so the sides of the canvas are not perpendicular to its face, but bend and slope—a glimpse, maybe, into non-Euclidean painting. Sérgio Sister contributes Pontalete #16 (2012), an empty portico of canvas-covered wooden and aluminum bars in greens, deep blue, purple, and black—a sculpture that indicates traditional painting while eschewing it entirely.
The show’s success is in creating an environment of dimensional meditation. Photographer Andreas Gursky’s Bahrain II (2007) depicts three gray-backed black stripes at the top, middle, and bottom of a large canvas, traced by racing stripes and sporting a Vodafone logo. An overhead shot of a motor racetrack digitally dis- and re-assembled, the image might remain in another setting more comfortably flat. But here one easily imagines bending it into a torus of some sort, and the mind does the work of adding a third dimension. Sarah Crowner’s Sliced Snake (2015) also unravels a black form on a light background; the rectangular canvas is sewn together from smaller, irregular pieces, the stitchwork still evident. Again, we are reminded of the painting as object. Likewise with her Hook Swan (2015), an elegant light green figure on a canvas background that perhaps bridges not only the dimensional gap, but that between the plant and animal kingdoms as well. In the adjacent Untitled (2014), Wyatt Kahn uses a similar stitching technique to assemble a light taupe, stingray-shaped canvas.
Two corner pieces, meanwhile, serve to remind that tri-dimensionality can be achieved not just through depth, but by bending too. Kaz Oshiro’s acrylic-on-canvas Untitled Still Life (2013), a pink and red square toppled onto its vertex, turns up a corner like an earmarked book page to skirt a second wall. Across the gallery, similar color play twinkles through Jim Hodges’s mirror-on-panel Toward Great Becoming (orange/pink) (2014), shiny halves of the eponymous colors jutting from each other and reflecting into one another’s surfaces exuberantly. Here, depth is again created through reflection.
And everywhere: shadow—the surest sign of an object in space. Upstairs, the pattern now established, Thomas Demand’s Detail (Sportscar) (2005) depicts close-ups of a car’s gills and orifices, dark shadows contrasting with the hot orange of the car’s paint, the depth abstracted in these context-less images. Svenja Deininger, in her Untitled (2012), draws on shadow and geometric shapes to paint a receding room in grays and black; across the room, her Untitled (2009) uses similar shadow-play to suggest the contoured terrain at the corner of a painting’s frame.
Two larger works on the second floor offer singular takes on the show’s theme. Olafur Eliasson’s Walk through wall (2005), a mirror featuring two offset sets of rippling concentric circles, offers a double-vision reflection of the room behind the viewer. The distorted view enlivens the other works reflected in the frame, especially Mark Grotjahn’s Untitled (Red & White) (2002) and Untitled (Blue & Yellow) (2003), rayed abstractions reminiscent of a skyward view from the Brooklyn Bridge.
Rebecca Ward’s clandestine (2015), meanwhile, aspires to depth not through wrapping itself in surface but through transparency. The canvas is stitched, and most of the right half, hard-edged white and green shapes, is threadbare, so that a wooden cross behind is visible—a manmade glassfish. Nearby hang a couple of Agnes Martins, Untitled #6 (1999) and Peace and Happiness (2001)—pastel-colored stripe numbers with gaps between the edge of the canvas and the frame, so that the object itself is presented, rather than just a face of it.
Agnes Martin and Ellsworth Kelly lived among a group of artists in the mid-20th century in the Coenties Slip of downtown Manhattan, outside the developing tradition of Abstract Expressionism, working largely with geometric shapes and hard-edged coloration. The effect of this work on subsequent artists is evident, the patterns of Coenties artists morphing through the decades into more peculiar shapes. Martin was influenced by the weaving of Coenties Slip artist Lenore Tawney; here, we see Rebecca Ward, for example, bring that influence full circle. Curators Louis Grachos, executive director of The Contemporary Austin, and Stephanie Roach, director of the FLAG Art Foundation, honor this nexus of influence through generations of artists. The show buoyantly leaps between surface and space. The fourth dimension awaits.
SAMUEL FELDBLUM is an armchair philosopher pondering getting out of his armchair.