Vel Minimumby Tom McGlynn
Paula Cooper Gallery |
January 5 – February 4, 2017
In discussing Dan Walsh’s work here, perhaps it’s best to get the term “post-minimalism” figured from the beginning. There is an undeniable link in Walsh’s work to what artists and critics ranging from Mel Bochner to Rosalind Krauss helped to define in Minimalism’s 1960s heyday. An undercurrent of the seriality, syntax, and presentational strategies from that era has been updated more recently in careers as disparate as those of Hélio Oiticica and R. H. Quaytman, in which the minimalist gestalt offers a readymade template for exploring themes of discursive narrative and identity—themes that would most likely seem antithetical to the ethos of the anecdote-allergic Donald Judd and Robert Morris. Walsh seems to hew rather closely to the origins of the historical movement, yet his almost diffident serial progressions here depart from it with oddly-realized symmetries that suffuse the room with the quirky decorum of a fin-de-siècle Viennese parlor—an interesting scenario to entertain within the circumscription of the Paula Cooper Gallery, one of the primary venues of “classic” minimalism, of epoch-defining shows by Sol Lewitt and Carl Andre. In an imaginary sense, both artist and gallerist seem to conspire in this atavistic vestibule, like a truant student with a faithful steward of the form, to extend what Hal Foster would term “The Crux of Minimalism,” yet with a bit of a crafty, mannered recalibration. This state of affairs raises the question: “Is there really such a thing as post-minimalism?” A more cogent one to ask might be exactly what elements of the minimalist creed does the artist excise or retain here, and why?
In works like Constellation (2016) the artist maps out a recursive topology, in muted grays, of ever-morphing lozenge shapes, reminiscent of a carpenter routing shallow passes on a wooden plane. A daydreaming craftsman is at work here, filling the confines of the plane with marks intended not necessarily for display—but nevertheless of ornamental design—in their carefully-articulated matrices. Here is a key to the way in which Walsh’s seriality differs from that of his minimalist forebears. Rather than conceptualizing a unitary form, a priori, into a working method as might Morris or Judd, Walsh initializes a generative inscription (or code) that constitutes what in classical mythology is characterized as a dynamic, purely actualizing “daimon”1—a more localized engine of growth. These are paintings “on automatic” as it were, not energized with a machine-like objectivity but with the intimate pulse of household gods. This aspect is what liberates Walsh’s program from a dogmatic genealogy of Minimalism and allows for what writer Jennifer Coates has called, “lowest common denominators, reminders of the elegant simplicity of utilitarian rituals like cleaning, organizing, and ordering. He methodically interprets the compulsive compartmentalizing and right-angled divisions of the modern world from a quirky, folk-minimalist perspective.” Also relevant to Walsh’s day-dreamy “drift” are Rosalind Krauss’s early insights into Sol LeWitt’s serial methodology, “It has the loquaciousness of the speech of children or of the very old, in that its refusal to summarize, to use a single example that would imply the whole.”2 This “folksy loquaciousness” is revealed most clearly in the sculptural reliefs in the anteroom to the main gallery. In works such as Pine I and Cedar II (both 2016), carefully-drilled blocks of wood channel both hobo art and the obsessive-compulsive, centripedal linearity of a so-called outsider artist such as Martín Ramírez. Here Walsh seems to be in “unsupervised play” mode, compared to the more formal, hieratic presentation in his paintings. It’s not all play, however, as these works also exude a meditational vibe, or perhaps simply daydreaming with intention. A certain concentrated austerity certainly pervades the black and white ink drawing/paintings, such as Iwano E and Iwano G (both 2016) on the wall opposite.
In the main gallery, one painting in particular stands out, Fin (2016). A medium-large format (70 by 70 inches) displays the artist’s typical subdivision of the plane with an algorithmic, yet handmade diminishing of proportion, here determined by “I” shaped columns formed in negative space by a series of under-saturated orange entablatures. Already referencing architecture, the painting has its corollary in three-dimensional form in a Jackie Winsor-like sculpture, Cube (2016) fabricated from copper tubing and screening. Unlike Winsor’s work (also represented by Paula Cooper), most of which has embodied a brute phenomenology, Walsh treads lightly into this territory. It is as if the earlier transference of boilerplate macho-Minimalism that theoretically spurred Winsor to compete on that same level gets recuperated by Walsh as a more delicate gesture, thereby completing the Freudian circuit as it were.
- “In Plato there is an incipient tendency toward the apotheosis of nous. [...] He needs a closeness and availability of the divine that is offered neither by the stars nor by metaphysical principles. Here a name emerged to fill the gap, a name which had always designated the incomprehensible yet present activity of a higher power, daimon”, from Walter Burkert, Greek Religion, Harvard University Press. 179–181, 317, 331, 335.
- Rosalind Krauss, “Lewitt in Progress,” October,
Vol. 6 (Autumn, 1978), 46-60.