On ViewNew York Studio School
June 3 – August 7, 2010
Tape and steel are the constituent materials of Rebecca Smith’s sculptural practice, and now they are the subject of her exhibition at the New York Studio School. Almost as if to emphasize this fact, Smith has titled her exhibition after these materials with an ironically complex machismo ring that evokes the Modernist sculpture of her father, David Smith. This exhibition strives to interlay the two previously segregated yet related material concerns, but best elucidates Smith’s painting-sculpture hybrids, which are punctuated by linear elements created by various types of tape. Preciously arranged, genteelly self-contained, beautifully crafted, these sculptures function, like paintings, as discrete objects. Even installed at wall scale, they sit on the architecture rather than becoming part of it.
In the exhibition catalog Smith states, “The grid is certainly the way the human-made world is set up, yet we deviate from it all the time. I had thought that the last thing I would ever want to work with was the grid, because it seems so tired out as a concept.”
Smith’s visual structure extends the legacy of Modernism yet also perverts, by degrees, the order in, say, Mondrian’s grid paintings. The sculptures’s titles often refer to the natural world—the glacial ice shelf, insects, plants, and animals—yet their materiality points to their components’ utilitarian applications: urban window guards, automobile interference paints, fire escapes.
Tape in Smith’s studio functions as a sketching tool for visualizing forms that will be fabricated in steel. Tape has also been the poetic, calligraphic, and elegant gestural subject of several of Smith’s more exploratory installations. In these works, it has been treated without economy or boundary, playfully engaging and layering the entire architectural space. However, in this exhibition, tape feels circumscribed as a connector of liminal space between, as well as, in the service of the sculptures, becoming a literal gesture of connection rather than an aesthetic encompassment.
In dialogue, with the various directions and impulses over Smith’s career, combining these materials feels like a necessary step. I sense a restrained Post-minimalist theatrical sensibility at play: in the catalog interview, Smith discusses stacking or interlocking several floor pieces in the rear gallery; this idea, however, is unrealized, which is a disappointment. I wonder how a denser installation might have engaged the viewer, both visually and physically, as well as complicate the works’ individual objectness. I also wonder how it might have invited more interaction and interconnectedness among the exhibition’s individual pieces. There are glimpses in some interstices, such as the white tape running under “Green Insect” (2009) and rippling into a ribbon-like form, and I am curious to see these materials more exaggeratedly placed, layered, and ordered (or disordered, as her sculptures demand of the Modernist grid). Perhaps, then, the experience will further transcend its intrinsic materiality of tape and steel.