Haim Chanin Fine Arts, April 25 – June 13, 2009
A word like “revelatory” should be used advisedly, but there really isn’t a better way to describe Pierrette Bloch’s current exhibition at Haim Chanin Fine Arts. While the very presence of her work is noteworthy—this is the first time that Bloch, at 80 years old, has shown in the United States since 1951—what this exhibition reveals is how far one artist can go in pursuit of the essential, and what it looks like when she grasps it.
For decades, Bloch has streaked, dripped, and blotted ink on paper or Isorel, a highly frangible type of chipboard. Occasionally she would collage maculated scraps together, or add strokes of graphite or pastel, but never in a color other than black. Or else she would turn to the unlikely material of horsehair, weaving it into diaphanous sheets or tying it into a tightly curling, impossibly long strand. The titles of her works reflect either what they’re made of (“Ink on Isorel”) or what they are (“Horsehair Sculpture”).
You may have noticed I’ve avoided applying the words “drawing” or “painting” to Bloch’s art; the uniqueness of her work renders such categorizations irrelevant while challenging their underlying assumptions. She uses the materials of drawing, at least in terms of the Western tradition, with freshness and spontaneity, yet each work conveys the conceptual density and distanced facture we associate with painting. Given her work’s physical fragility and the stark minimalism of her mark-making, this totality of expression is the most extraordinary, and radical, aspect of her work. By stripping her means to the graphical sine qua non of black ink on white paper, she courts meaninglessness every time she raises her brush, yet the uncanny exactitude of her drips and strokes conjures a spectrum of emotion from crippling grief to unbridled joy.
Although Bloch is of a generation that came of age in war-torn France, to yoke her work to existentialism feels as glib as linking it to second-generation Abstract Expressionism or to Minimalism, which it straddles chronologically and stylistically. It is so grounded in a specific set of materials that it defies the notion of a literary provenance, and it is so concerned with the act of art-making that if feels equally indifferent to a prevailing idiom or a formal critique. Its tension arises from an ink membrane drying on a fibrous surface, or a horsehair pulled taut. Its thingness is both its sum and its reduction; anything beyond that is wreathed in clouds of conjecture.