G.T. PELLIZZI Transitional
Y GALLERY | SEPTEMBER 7 – OCTOBER 16, 2011
There was a work permit by the entrance. Industrial light fixtures, bent and angled, shared wall space with boxy structures made out of the same blue-painted plywood that fences construction sites in New York City. A cadmium red stack of newsprint listing grammatical transitions sat thick and heavy in a small, slightly raised enclave while bolted to the floor and coated in the same semi-reflective safety yellow as street bollards, a pair of hefty plywood slabs accumulated grit from a month’s worth of being underfoot. This was G.T. Pellizzi’s solo exhibition, Transitional, a conceptually tight and particularly well-installed body of work.
Pellizzi has a degree in architecture, a fact plainly reflected in his choice of materials, more subtly so in the way his work activated the space it occupied. Each piece had an atmosphere-enhancing effect on its immediate surroundings, though in a systematic way that felt correct and dutifully worked out, like a solved algebra equation. The five works in his Conduit (2011) series—composed of tinted red, yellow, and blue bulbs connected by networks of stainless steel rods—spread a soft glow across the gallery’s white walls. This left the bright white LEDs to illuminate the flat planes and thick volumes of Pellizzi’s color saturated Transitional Geometries (2011), which were painted the same primary hues as the bulbs in the Conduits. Such curatorial maneuvers allowed the colors to be physical and luminescent, alternately reflective and absorbent, achieving a measured balance that was chromatically quiet and ultimately soothing.
Overt art historical associations intellectually offset the works’ sensual appeal. “Conduit in Red Yellow and Blue”(2011), the title of four of the five light fixture pieces, made use of Mondrian’s favorite primaries and were all variations on a geometric theme recalling the Dutchman’s taste for serial compositions that conformed to a restrictive order. The use of lights also evoked Flavin’s “untitled (to Piet Mondrian through his preferred colors, red, yellow, and blue)” (1986). Meanwhile, the Transitional Geometries could have been revisions of Barnett Newman’s series “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue” (1966-68). While the referential color logic of the Conduits was self-contained in each iteration, that same logic neatly united the plywood works, “Transitional Geometry in Blue” (2011), to the floor piece, “Transitional Geometry in Yellow (Tower 1 & Tower 2)” (2011), to the unlimited edition of red newsprint, titled simply, “Transitions,” (2011).
Thankfully, Pellizzi checked his assiduous formalism and in-crowd art references with a solemn nod to 9/11—the 10th anniversary of which took place during the opening week of the exhibition—and a bit of wit cracking. Each of the two floor-bound yellow squares, for example, corresponded with one of the twin towers. Perhaps because the piece’s material context denoted a construction site, it seemed as much a memorial as the recognition of new buildings on the rise. “Work Permit” rather comically juxtaposed artist manifestos with the resignation letters of politicians, a sheriff, and one emperor. These pieces gave Transitional its only touch of warm-bloodedness.
In a sense Pellizzi put on a textbook exhibition. Each piece was assertively its own, though hardly out of sync with the others. Furthermore, all the works fed back into the overarching concept of things in transition—whether that be artistic dogma, a building, or a career (this was Pellizzi’s first solo outing after a decade of collaborative endeavors). Because everything had its place in the artist’s system, the exhibition as a whole felt rigorously conceived and schematic, but it lacked the ability to stir any emotion. The weakest aspect may have been the art historical referencing, which combined with too little personally charged material, gave the work a pseudo-academic staleness. Art about art is simply less interesting to see than to read about.
On the other hand, Pellizzi’s decision to use building materials and activate the symbolism of construction—overhauling and rebuilding—while honing in on the concept of transitions could not have been more poignantly timed. It doesn’t matter if it was coincidence; the protests against our bloated and diseased financial system shaped the social context in which Transitional was situated. It aligned with the zeitgeist of the moment, lending the work a powerful relevance beyond anything the gallery or the artist could have singlehandedly achieved.