Concrete Now! Introducing PS
23 August - 27 September 2009
Concrete Now! Introducing PS
text by Geoff Lucas
The second in the annual series of group shows at the HICA space, the series title Concrete Now! highlights this as a survey of what might constitute an aspect of current Concrete Art practice, while also reflecting consideration in viewing Concrete works of the actual, temporal formation of the works and exhibition. PS projects in Amsterdam have been invited to curate the show, and it includes six artists they have worked closely with: Julian Dashper, Gerold Miller, John Nixon, Michelle Grabner, Jan van der Ploeg (who co-runs PS) and Tilman.
Van der Ploeg’s Untitled, 2008, nearest to the entrance of the gallery is a good starting point for exploring the relation between these works. A notice indicating the cut-price value of goods in shops, it is a cartoon explosion of orange and yellow. The form is loud, its exaggerated jagged outline reinforcing the shout of the colours. This form, especially in isolation, can be considered for what it embodies. The question in much writing on the Concrete is whether there can be a universal response, something that might ultimately lead to the making of works with objective certainty. The piece succinctly opens this discussion – would not all viewers respond similarly to these attention-grabbing forms and colours? We might further deduce that the goods on sale are of little value - perhaps this cheapness is signified by the other constituent materials; the laminated surface, the thin card, possibly all more culturally determined, but the question remains as to whether there may be some innate physiological response to this shape, these colours.
This then is a focus on the effects of the present materials directly on the viewer, as experienced in the real time and space of the exhibition, rather than requiring their involvement in details of content, a sense that may easily be transferred here to other works: Tilman’s Little House of Colours, a wall-mounted sandwich of square-sectioned aluminium segments, in a range of pleasant colours, or John Nixon’s Untitled, 2008 a scrap of orange plastic mesh roughly fixed over a bought canvas and quickly painted silver.
To quote from the press release for the Minimal Pop exhibition held at Florence Lynch gallery in New York, that several artists here were contributors to, ‘All attach a special significance to the retinal, the sensuality of perception and the relationships among the viewer, architecture and art objects, on an experiential level.’i
Michelle Grabner’s work, a circular black canvas with white dots spiralling out from its centre, the opacity of which serially fades and is renewed throughout the spiral form, in several ways develops this basic engagement. It is hung above head-height, higher than other works in the show, giving it a looming presence. The dots, precise additions to the spiral are the result of a small brush dipped in white paint. This, overall, reveals another aspect to the physiological effects through the direct mesmeric appeal of an Op-art
pattern. The work then enables a spectrum of responses, from the basic physiological response to what might be more abstract and conceptual. We may feel, for instance, that the effect of the scale of the dots is to produce something finicky, a sharp pin-cushion of an image, or that the repetitive action does not appear a serene meditation, but a grinding chore, the work descriptive of ‘the bland vacancy of formalism, something flat and machinic in consciousness’ii as Annika Marie has observed.
It is hard to avoid this kind of reading-in looking at the late Julian Dashper’s Untitled (I’m afraid of red, yellow and blue), his very recent and untimely death adding greater poignancy to his response to the Barnett Newman work (Who’s afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue). Dashper’s title, coupled with this ultimate minimal form; dots of primary colour, suggest an irreducible particularity, conversely implying the overwhelming nature of the fundamental.
Again to quote from Minimal Pop, ‘Their works are no longer driven by the social or metaphysical utopias of the pioneers of abstraction, but by codes and patterns, that have established themselves in the everyday world.’iii While the exploration continues of direct engagement, perhaps the emphasis has shifted. There seems an accepting of the inevitability of content, but a content that develops from the same inevitability as the ‘codes and patterns’: the natural consequence perhaps of the concrete structure of things. And here, with this sense of content, the exhibition suggests a necessary distinction between art and life. Van der Ploeg’s work may be understood to function in essentially the same way that the red wall it is hung on also affects the viewer, and the sense that our surroundings shape and influence our conceptual responses and behaviour is here acknowledged and investigated. (van der Ploeg has commented that ‘my wall paintings hover between art and decoration.’iv) But consistently these works enable more than just a direct material engagement, putting distance between the purely lived experience and the reflective activity of art. Tilman’s work, on longer viewing, appears to playfully deflate the Constructivist ideal of the wall-relief, Nixon’s stretched mesh is a parody of the painted canvas and the value attached to it. Gerold Miller’s poster-work in this context clearly illustrates the point: a filmic scenario of European cool. Behind the car he is driving in the centre of the image, he drags one of the Total Object works he is best known for. Many of these pieces have the perfect finish of a new car, often, in fact, employing the same methods of production. It is difficult to consider this work solely through the materials presented (the printed poster). The scene might rather imply that the artwork is distinct from experience; its perfection scuffed and damaged in being generated from the immediate and real.
i Petra Bungert, Press release, ‘Minimal Pop / commissariat de Petra Bungert’, Undo.net, March 2005, http://www.undo.net/cgi-bin/undo/pressrelease/pressrelease.pl?id=1110883755&day=1110927600
ii Annika Marie, On Not Being Spectacular: Michelle Grabner’s Black Circle Paintings Metalpoint Drawings and Monoprints, Poor farm Press, 2009, p8
iii Petra Bungert, Press release, ‘Minimal Pop / commissariat de Petra Bungert’, Undo.net, March 2005, http://www.undo.net/cgi-bin/undo/pressrelease/pressrelease.pl?id=1110883755&day=1110927600
iv Jan van der Ploeg, Later on we Shall Simplify Things, Ayres, van Hanegem, van der Ploeg, Schuil, 2005, p27
(L to R)
Tilman, Little House of Colours, Lacquer on aluminium, 2008. 29 x 21 x 6 cm. Edition of 5 with 2 artist proofs, with certificate of authenticity
John Nixon, Untitled, Oil on hessian over canvas, 2008. 20x25cm
Julian Dashper Untitled (I'm afraid of red, yellow and blue) (detail), Acrylic paint on wall, 2009. Dimensions variable
Michelle Grabner, Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 2006. 40cm diameter
For the exhibition press release click here
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