Don Gummerby James Kalm
at N3 Project Space
There’s something in the air these days. Postmodernism and Deconstructivism seem to have brought art to a state of sublime meaninglessness. A main tenant of Po-Mo is a deep skepticism in the meta-narative, that is any theory or system of the sociological superstructure: God, nature, love, beauty, etc. Deconstructivism seeks to do away with the concept of universal truths by throwing up the infinite possibilities of the interpretation of a statement. The esteemed art critic Robert C. Morgan in an interview by Joan Waltemath in the March-April issue of the Brooklyn Rail states, "We have to find a new approach to criteria that goes beyond pure aesthetics." So what prey tell is a better measure of values in artistic creation, perhaps political correctness or multiculturalism? Artworks done by, or for, specific groups or causes no longer have the burden of aesthetic acceptability? Or perhaps anything that promotes a particular political of philosophical imperative is all that is required? Lord what hath these philosophers wrought upon us?
At this point it might behoove us to look to the writings of Meyer Schapiro, who, although he could never be mistaken for the latest freshest French fashion trend, is nonetheless valuable for his clarity, and Deconstructivism not withstanding, his honesty as well. In one of his early essays, "Nature of Abstract Art," he states, "In abstract art, however, the pretended autonomy and absoluteness of the aesthetic emerged in the concrete form. Here finally, was an art of painting in which only aesthetic elements seem to be present […] Painters who do not practice this art have welcomed it on just this ground, that it strengthened their conviction of the absoluteness of the aesthetic, and provided them with a discipline in pure design." Ironically it seems that no sooner has modern abstraction freed the artist to pursue the goals of pure aesthetics (and their evil twin anti-aesthetics) than these thinkers want to put the harness back on and reduce the artist to a draft horse hauling their ideological freight. Po-Mo might be a sexy sounding label but I can’t help seeing it as more like an indentured pre-modern condition.
What does all this pontification have to do with the work of Don Gummer? Well, nothing really, except that his exhibition of works on paper and sculpture at N3 Project Space is a perfect example of the joys and pleasures a viewer can derive when they aren’t constantly looking for some obscure political irony or semiotic syllogism. The drawings and watercolors provide a journal of the ideas and their permutations that the artist goes through to design his sculpture. In some cases, quick strokes with broad brushes establish planes of pigment that imply space or create planes that could be realized as slabs of solid form. In other drawings the elements are rendered in a more architectural way. Long, twisting curves are drawn with the struts and joists depicted very articulately. Because of the structural constituents of repeated cross-members and ribbing, I was reminded of the process of shipbuilding or the interior structure of an airplane wing. There is a rhythm that is created by this process as well as a kind of pragmatic design that seems to want to reduce the structure to its essence, as if by reducing its visual weight it will achieve its perceptual status more efficiently. When I asked if he’d ever studied architecture, Gummer replied that the closest he’d come was doing some sheet rock work when he’d first arrived in New York. "I think what I’m trying to do is to show the structure of form by stripping it of surface in some cases." There’s a craftsmanly sense of materials that is not only apparent in the construction of the sculpture, but also in the works on paper. Their straight-ahead unfinicky execution bespeaks the confidence of an artist who knows what he’s about and how to get what he wants from his materials. Gummer has a subtle coloristic sense, as when he lays in traced linear shapes or forms on a gray ground with toned down red, warm yellow, and a dusty blue. Though rich, the hues have a somewhat weathered feel as if they’d been painted. The bronze sculpture, which is the centerpiece of this small show, exemplifies the kind of constructive empiricism used by Gummer to achieve his aesthetic ends. The artist commented that he’d been inspired by the view from his studio window of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in this untitled piece. Slowly curving flat bands rise from the base, like the bending beams of a building. They are punctuated at regular intervals by horizontal planes constructed of tighter curving shapes. It’s through a kind of dynamic tension not only visual, but physical that reinforces the structure and provides its resonance and formal stability.
JAMES KALM has written extensively on the Brooklyn art scene. In 2006 he began posting video reviews of local art exhibitions at his two YouTube channels that have generated over six million views.