THREE DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF THE SAME STORY
by David A. Willis
Thomas Kovachevich 2013
Callicoon Fine Arts and SHOW ROOM Gowanus
February 23 – March 30, 2014
In his eponymous exhibition, Thomas Kovachevich, 2013, the artist presents work at three different locations in New York: the new Callicoon Fine Arts location on Delancey Street, the old Callicoon Fine Arts location on Forsyth Street, and at SHOW ROOM Gowanus on Union Street in Brooklyn. The works on display in this multi-venue exhibition include abstract paintings, minimalist sculptures, and sculptural performances of an aleatory nature.
One such performance took place on a rainy Wednesday night at the new Callicoon gallery. Following a poetry reading featuring authors Gracie Leavitt and John Keene, Kovachevich came forward to sit in front of the crowd. The lights were dimmed and attention was focused toward a square metal tray illuminated by a standing lamp. A woman brought out a vase full of water and poured it onto a piece of corrugated black plastic in the center of the metal tray. The water was held in place by a ridge of acrylic tracing the edge of the plastic form, and she added boiling water from a paper cup until a small amount of steam rose from its surface. Next, she took two square napkins made of a synthetic material and laid them out flat on the steaming body of water. Kovachevich then produced six small pieces of gauzy white paper from between the pages of a moleskin and placed them on the floating napkins. At this point something wonderful happened: the paper shapes began to furl and unfurl, animated by the warm vapors passing up through the napkin below. Although they seemed to writhe in unison at first, they began to crawl in different directions until one by one they reached the edge of their respective napkins, and falling into the water, came to rest.
Entitled “Two Different Versions Of The Same Story” (2014), this performance partakes of methods that Kovachevich has legally patented as his own. Born in 1942, Kovachevich worked as a physician before he began to make art in the ’70s, and something of this former profession comes through in the quasi-scientific methodology underpinning many of his artworks. For instance, Kovachevich’s installation at Delancey Street, “Portrait Of This Room (Black and White Triptych)”(2013), consists of columns of white paper tape pinned to the wall with strips of black ribbon, arranged in a composition reminiscent of a Daniel Buren stripe painting. On humid days the tape remains more or less flat against the wall, leaving the ribbons visible, but on arid days the tape curls inward to conceal the black stripes, closing up like flower buds retracting in on themselves for the night.
Around the corner at Callicoon’s soon-to-be-closed Forsyth Street location, one encounters a different body of work by Kovachevich: a series of small, square black canvases, each of which bears an abstract form in its center. Painted in acrylic, some of the forms are geometric, whereas others are more unruly and expressionistic. Viewed one after another, these diminutive canvases resemble petri dishes under a microscope, some of which contain wriggling bacteria whereas others contain organized swarms of nanobots. The regularity of the black squares establishes a sense of equivalence between these two disparate forms and unifies the series as a whole.
There is a similar group of (even smaller) black canvases over at SHOW ROOM Gowanus, as well as three large fiberglass panels painted copper-green, and a couple of hollow cardboard sculptures that look like giant oblong peanut-butter cups. There’s also another humidity-sensitive tape installation stretching from floor to ceiling, which follows the same basic principles as the tape installation on Delancey Street. This time, however, the strips of tape are arranged to form a column in the middle of the room. Out back in the courtyard, a few crumpled cardboard sculptures lie on the ground, a conscious decision on the part of the artist insofar as he chose to leave them there after they were blown over in a storm.
While there is clearly something fatalistic about Kovachevich’s insistence on letting the chips fall where they may, it should be noted that the randomness in his art always takes place within the confines of a carefully controlled system; it is never a question of whether a certain event will or will not take place, but rather when and how. Since Kovachevich makes these questions deliberately unanswerable, there’s not much point standing around in the gallery waiting for something to happen. Instead, it makes more sense to visit multiple times to see how things may have changed since your last viewing. Fortunately, Kovachevich strikes such a pleasing balance between minimalist restraint and expressionistic whimsy that you’ll probably feel compelled to come back for a second look anyway.
ContributorDavid A. Willis