The traditional categories of painting, drawing, and sculpture have for a long time been useless in understanding the art object. Where they can still be of service is in providing artists like Diana Cooper with a set of rules to ignore. She does so quite effectively in Swarm, her most recent show at Postmasters, which makes a case for keeping said outmoded categories around just to send them up.
Cooper’s painting-, drawing-, and sculpturelike objects are some of the most representational abstract artworks being made right now, and they appear calculated to resist summary and characterization. It’s safe to say they’re more like culture than nature in the sense that the forms, the way they are assembled, and what they’re made of, are all products of built environments. The coy “mixed media” designation on the exhibition checklist belies the importance of raw materials for Cooper, and the enumeration of the weirdly banal substances that make up her artworks—pom-poms, map pins, felt, acetate, neoprene, Velcro—shows that she is clearly an artist for whom materials are motivators. The specificity of the objects that go into her installations is logically coeval with the artist’s “idea” in the making of the artwork; it’s difficult if not impossible to determine whether the materials were selected to make the art, or if the art was made to respond to the materials.
There are quite a few artists who share a similar accumulate-and-arrange attitude, but unlike Sarah Sze, Jessica Stockholder, or Jason Rhodes, none of the raw goods of Cooper’s art are complete and functional in and of themselves: assemblage occurs at a more elementary level. Looking at Cooper’s work, it seems important that the basic building blocks of the installation have themselves been meticulously constructed, like the felt-covered foam-core brackets that hold up some of the cut paper shapes in “Untitled (The Emerger).” Most of the materials used could have come from Staples, and there’s some glory in the redeployment of map pins and corrugated plastic for a purpose that exceeds the scope of such excruciatingly boring items.
Where Cooper’s work succeeds is in suggesting different analogues to her constructions—architectural models, circuit boards, construction sites, telephone doodles—without letting any one of them determine their meaning. The works really aren’t like anything except artworks, and what one ends up with as a viewer is a nondirected tour through an artist’s visual thinking. I don’t think decoding the work is an appropriate response, because I’m not sure there’s a definite, delimited meaning there to be uncovered. It seemed more profitable to acknowledge the associations called up by each piece and try to triangulate what it means through those formal and material echoes of the real world. For example, Swarm for me equaled bird flock plus TV weather map plus office cubicles. I have no idea if I experienced Swarm in a way that was in accord with the artist’s intentions, but even that seemed fitting.
I did get a bit suspicious, though, when faced with “Orange Alert (USA),” a nice-looking installation in the rear gallery that referred, according to the press release, to the “US terror alert color code instated by the Bush administration after September 11, 2001.” Whether on the part of the artist or the gallery, this seemed like a too-canny piece of salesmanship. Not to say that Cooper’s work, or abstraction in general, doesn’t talk about serious stuff, but the imposition of a top-heavy concept on art so admirably light on its feet was something of a drag.
Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass IncarcerationBy Adriana Furlong
MARCH 2021 | ArtSeen
Throughout Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration, we can see artists, some currently incarcerated, emerging from indeterminacy, indicating and reconfiguring an existence in constant threat of being snuffed out.
Georgia O’Keeffe: To See Takes TimeBy Rebecca Schiffman
MAY 2023 | ArtSeen
In the eyes of the profound American artist Georgia OKeeffe (1887-1986), a single artwork cant always fully express the complexity of its subject: sometimes it takes a few tries. Up now at MoMA is a wonderful expansion of that idea in Georgia OKeeffe: To See Takes Time, featuring more than 120 works on paper spanning five decades of the pioneering artist's career.
Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass IncarcerationBy Darla Migan
MARCH 2021 | ArtSeen
Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration is an exhibition of more than 35 artists interrogating the logics of the carceral system
A Language Cairn: Artists on Their PracticeBy Charlotte Kent
MAY 2023 | Art and Technology
Because this month I had the honor of acting as Guest Editor for the Critics Page, where I invited global curators and scholars to contribute a word theyd like to see or never see again in the discourse around art and technology, I thought I would develop this months column around the words that artists use and encounter about their practiceacross media. So I asked them what silly, uncomfortable, or productive term they encountered. It could be something said to them or something they say to themselves. Leaving aside the linguistic debates around performative utterances, words act around art as a network of ideas, a system if you will, or a kind of scatterplot of imaginative relations.