On ViewMinus Space
April 9 – July 30, 2022
Painted / Stacked / Site is an incremental retrospective of fifty years of Russell Maltz’s work—beginning with his pivotal and determining project “Pool” (1976–79) and continuing through his “Stacked” series, and then his “Needle” series. The exhibition will undergo an update two more times in the intervening three months until it closes on July 30, but it begins with photos and documentation, which cleverly lay the groundwork for an understanding of the artist’s profoundly site specific, yet independent work. Maltz confronts the premises of the Duchampian readymade first by questioning what constitutes an object. Maltz’s material of choice is lumber, specifically plywood, but he also deploys plexiglass, cinder blocks, etc. The material is notably in a transitional state—either to be used, or recycled, or no longer in use, and it questions the idea of the “made” in the readymade. Maltz’s project is to make something but still deny the fruit of his efforts a description; his process is also calibrated to reject bourgeois definitions of art—he stacks, piles, and arranges objects but refuses to force them into a state of permanent association. The street windows of MINUS SPACE present two bundles: collections of 2×4s and narrow plywood scraps tied together and hung from the wall with metal banding, ACCU-FLO Bundled #1 and ACCU-FLO Bundled #2 (both 2022). The wood is painted DayGlo orange, yet another strategic gesture with the aim of injecting aesthetic intentionality while employing a very common medium used for safety purposes in construction. Maltz’s medium is ubiquity, and yet we know that his arrangements are not just lying around.
“Pool” is included in the first iteration of Painted / Stacked / Site and examines an early project of the artist’s, employing not only the notion of “found object” but found exhibition space, as well. Maltz commandeered an abandoned pool on the campus of the C.W. Post College on Long Island and began experimenting with the possibilities offered by the seemingly extraordinary occurrence of a rectangular gouge taken from the surface of the earth. Suites of purely geometrical renderings/technical drawings titled POOL Drawing (1977) and POOL Black Zone (1979) investigate the cross section of the site and propose interventions, some of which the artist eventually effected in the space. These are presented in a slide show and aerial film. What is most striking about the drawings—and the more conceptual No Title drawings from 1976–77, a series of six rectangular graphite fields of texture interrupted by lines of erased or blank paper—is watching the artist wrestle with the premise of the “Pool” as a pre-existing sculptural space. Does placing form within that space constitute addition or subtraction? What actions can be done that correlate with a ready-made space without detracting from its unconventional nature? The No Title drawings depict a rupture in ambient banality that has been one of the underlying themes of the sculptor’s work throughout his career. Maltz invited several colleagues, including Roberta Allen, Ted Stamm, and Tony King, to exhibit in the “Pool,” and their contributions are exhibited as well.
Like the random abandoned pool waiting to be utilized, Maltz sourced an offsite, non-gallery space to supplement Painted / Stacked / Site over at 28 Jay Street, about a five-minute walk from the gallery. Siting the work in a completely different set of circumstances is transformative for the artist’s practice, and substantially more so, I would argue, than with other artists’ work. The transgressive aspect of the material emerges when it is placed in a location where, as the raw fabric of construction, it seems appropriate. 28 Jay Street is an empty storefront, and while it is “finished” from a construction standpoint, the stacks of recycled plywood, 2×4s, and cinder blocks seem at home in the capacious emptiness of the space. But while these neat accumulations of raw material have the potential to grow into something useable or recognizable, Maltz capitalizes on the inscrutability of a pile of something waiting to become useful. He neatly paints sections of the plywood and isolates courses of cinder blocks with his signature ACCU-FLO DayGlo paint (this time in lemon yellow), adding a finishing gesture to a formation that is by definition unfinished. Perhaps, as my colleague Amanda Gluibizzi has wondered, is this a case of sculptural non-finito being applied to conceptual art? The simple layer of pigment makes us question the whole point of art and decoration to begin with. Maltz is forcing the viewer to consider at what point is our environment ready to be infiltrated with an aesthetic—or was it always there from the start?