Sara Meltzer Gallery
Jason Middlebrook has made a promising career out of large-scale sculptural installations like his transforming "Dig" (2001) at the New Museum that turned the downstairs library into an open pit. It comes as something of a surprise to encounter Middlebrook creating an installation that doesn’t transform the gallery as much as traverse its walls with intelligent, beautiful drawings. This surprising, effortless turn elevates an already excellent show.
APL#1 has a simple conceit: a continuous series of twenty-one drawings on paper of the Alaskan Pipeline span the gallery at a scale of 2.5 miles to 1 foot. Each large, mixed media drawing on paper is linked by passages of pipeline painted on the gallery walls. The drawings wrap around corners, under the receptionist’s booth, and the pipeline cleverly passes through three television monitors as video. The apparent simplicity masks a bold assertion that goes beyond the formal beauty of these lyrical drawings.
Middlebrook creates a metaphorical, non-linear timeline that engages the complex web of art, industry, and politics within capitalist society without simplifying the intricate structure. The drawings start right of the entrance with a colorful, illustrative drawing of Prudhoe Bay where the pipeline originates and the next five drawings are essentially muted, taxonomic studies of the environment it passes through. The drawings here are plainly beautiful, carefully detailed, and devoid of any explicit critique. Middlebrook is a wonderful draftsman who collides several styles throughout. It isn’t until "APL#1BP," the sixth drawing, that a critical edge enters the narrative as a single, uneasy oil soaked owl is contrasted with British Petroleum, Sunoco, and Exxon logos. Still, Middlebrook treats the logos like parts of the environment, mixed in with animal forms and fossils, consciously confusing the two. There is a clear reference to the terrible Exxon Valdez spill that became synonymous with environmental pollution.
The ensuing drawings follow the pipeline through invented sociopolitical landscapes, including one drawing, "No Blood for Oil," with the titular words drawn in Arabic. The eleventh drawing is a casually brutal image of a bald eagle’s brains being blown out in a style reminiscent of Francis Bacon. Middlebrook’s concern for the natural comes through in his other drawings of animals as well; there is a drawing of a lone moose in watery, blue tundra, and a polar bear consuming a fish. The tone of the drawings abruptly shifts course, like the pipeline itself, into art history. By drawing the pipeline into the background of Nancy Holt’s "Sun Tunnels" (1973-6), Middlebrook frames the pipeline in the same context, albeit a hugely expensive and artistically anonymous public sculpture. It’s not really a conceptual or aesthetic leap to view the pipeline from this unique perspective, as its scale and minimalist form fit firmly into the genre.
As the installation progresses, the pipeline passes through a diagram of problems humanity will face for the next fifty years, implicating America’s socioeconomic dependency on oil. The large, schematic drawing is a wonderful appropriation of systemic art that should be instructive to the conceptually suspect genre while further revealing the breadth of the artist’s vision. Middlebrook is able to effectively maintain artistic control over several drawing styles, from naturalistic pencil drawings to lyrical abstraction, in order to carry through his multifaceted exploration.
"APL#1 Double Negative" may be the most conventionally beautiful drawing in the show. The pipeline disappears into a central image of Michael Heizer’s "Double Negative," a monumental work etched into Nevada’s rocky terrain, dripping lines of color into the empty paper beneath. Conceptually, the drawing articulates Middlebrook’s argument that perhaps the ALP#1 is after all an artistic gesture. It can be viewed as a critical representation of a culture’s ideas, beliefs, and material traits. It is a strangely plausible argument for something vilified and simplified as a product of consumer greed. It is really a representation of a complex, difficult reality. APL#1 will continue in an exhibition in Athens, Greece at Els Hanappe Underground, representing the last leg of the pipeline’s journey.
96. A second-floor gallery on Mercer and Prince Street, a studio in a former synagogue on Hester StreetBy Raphael Rubinstein
APRIL 2022 | The Miraculous
At the age of 31, an artist walks into a SoHo gallery containing only a single worka 35-foot-long abstract paintingand begins to feel almost physically sick. He has been deeply affected by the political movements of the previous decade (feminism, civil rights, war protests) and realizes that he doesnt want to go on making big paintings. He cant stand the thought of one of his paintings ending up in a bank lobby or even in a museum.
Motherwell’s Early Drawings and Pragmatist PerceptionBy Gregory Gilbert
FEB 2023 | Critics Page
Motherwells extensive oeuvre is divided into a variety of separate media that includes painting, drawing, collage and printmaking. While he experimented with mixed media approaches throughout his career, he tended to ascribe specific aesthetic and technical values to each of these areas of practice, as Katy Rogers noted in the catalogue raisonné of his drawings.
Rackstraw Downes: DrawingsBy Alfred Mac Adam
FEB 2022 | ArtSeen
There are two Rackstraw Downes in this remarkable show of 33 drawings and one oil on canvas. The range is huge, from 1975 until 2020, but with the bulk of the drawings made in 2020. Not exactly a retrospective, but enough of one for us to see two discrete phases in his career: his mature style and his late style.
Matthew Ritchie with Jason Rosenfeld
OCT 2022 | Art
Matthew Ritchies show, A Garden in the Machine, is at James Cohan at 48 Walker Street through October 15. It includes two series of paintings made in the past year, a suite of ten related drawings, each titled Leaves, a large sculpture, and a film. The artists major career survey, A Garden in the Flood, curated by Mark Scala, will open at the Frist Art Museum, Nashville, Tennessee, on November 11. It will also include a collaboration with the composer Hanna Benn and the Fisk Jubilee Singers, with direction from their recently deceased leader, Dr. Paul T. Kwami. This is Ritchies first solo show at the gallery.