2.22 / Review

Forms and Inflections

By Jessica Brier August 1, 2011

It is surprisingly rare to see a show that actually describes a particular tendency in contemporary artistic production and its relationship to the past. Presumably this would be the goal of any group show, but connecting the dots to form a cohesive whole is harder than it sounds. Forms and Inflections makes an interesting case for contemporary artists (many of whom are remarkably young) who extend the lineage of 1960s and ’70s Minimalism and Op Art and, to an extent, Conceptual Art. The exhibition features seven contemporary artists working in diverse media—Christopher Badger, Aspen Mays, Hayal Pozanti, Florian and Michaël Quistrebert, Sean Raspet, and Hugh Scott-Douglas—along with Stanley Brouwn, a lesser-known Conceptual artist who began working in the ’70s and whose inclusion here acts as a historical anchor for the exploration of particular current trends. The visual interplay between each piece, ranging from the monumental to the modest and grouped to underscore particular themes, is the exhibition’s greatest strength.

The central thesis of the show is found in the last line of its press release: “At once subversive and formally seductive, [the pieces on view] prove to be less about the allure of regularity than the unexpected poetry of its breakdown.” While the Minimalists of the ’60s and ’70s sought to capture pure form as dictated by strict systems and patterns, the well-edited selection of pieces in Forms and Inflections cleverly pokes, prods, refracts, offsets, and pulls apart these aesthetic and historical precedents in a tasteful installation that perfectly fits the proverbial white cube of Silverman Gallery. While some of the artists illustrate this “breakdown” by foregrounding form and through material experimentation, others use visual phenomena as metaphors for other kinds of failure.

Clearly in the former camp is the Quistreberts’ wallpaper piece Lingelbach Grid Illusion (after the Hermann Grid Illusion) (2011), an exercise in total optical disorientation. Similarly the nearby candy-colored, micro-mesh, and muslin canvases of Scott-Douglas utilize the particular properties of their materials to create a wonky optical effect in a manner that would have pleased Dan Flavin and Eva Hesse alike. Also included in this subgroup is the Quistreberts’ static video Stripes (2011), aptly shown on a blockish monitor that sits on the floor like a monolithic Minimalist sculpture.

Several artists employ the visual manipulation of fixed systems as a metaphor for other kinds of collapse or atrophy. Raspet’s Three Inflections (2009–2010), whose title partially provides the show’s own, lyrically illustrates the idea of unhinging one of the most basic systems that ground us in well-ordered and clearly organized “reality”—in this case, time—through visually disorienting means. Raspet has

Forms and Inflections, installation view, Silverman Gallery, San Francisco, 2011. Left to right: Hugh Scott-Douglas, Untitled, 2011; Florian & Michaël Quistrebert, Lingelbach Grid Illusion (after the Hermann Grid Illusion), 2011 (wallpaper); Florian & Michaël Quistrebert, Stripes, 2011 (video); Sean Raspet, Three Inflections, 2009-2010; Hayal Pozanti, A Closed System of Surveillance, 2010 (foreground). Courtesy of Silverman Gallery, San Francisco.

Forms and Inflections, installation view, Silverman Gallery, San Francisco, 2011. Left to right: Aspen Mays, Punched Out Stars, 2011; Sean Raspet, Startup, 2011; Christopher Badger, Geometric Constructions of Antiquity, 3, 4, 5, 15, 2011. In case: various works by Stanley Brouwn. Courtesy of Silverman Gallery, San Francisco.

refashioned three standard-looking wall clocks into stunning, wall-mounted sculptures; their complex layers of two-way mirrored plexiglass resemble haphazard stacks of paper or razor-sharp glass flowers in various stages of bloom. They make impossible the simple act of telling time. Mays contributes four delicate photographic pieces in the series Punched Out Stars (2011), which (like beloved conceptual photography of the ’70s) is exactly what it sounds like. The effect is poetic and subtle but clear: absence, in both senses of the word. Both Raspet’s clocks and Mays’ photographs obscure and abstract our view of their subjects; obfuscation itself becomes their subject matter.

The show’s other pieces also reward careful consideration as virtually every one is a standout. Pozanti’s A Closed System of Surveillance (2010) feels like a classic Conceptual Art gag that never stops being clever: a tight circle of spray-painted Mylar balloons is fixed to the floor, creating a ring of balloon mirrors within balloon mirrors. This reflective ring is smartly installed near Raspet’s clock nightmare, establishing distorted reflection as a broader visual and conceptual theme. Badger’s beautifully precise chalk drawings Geometric Constructions of Antiquity, 3, 4, 5, 15 (2011) explore different permutations of basic geometric shapes, replacing systematic composition with the pure beauty of intuition.

The only work that sits apart from the rest is that of Brouwn, both because it is necessarily quarantined in a glass case and because of its art historical precedence. Brouwn’s work is presented really more as a reference point: his artist’s books and postcard pieces sit impotently in a glass case, falling victim to the usual problem of displaying now-valuable objects once meant to be handled and flipped through. The works included—particularly his best-known This Way Brouwn (1960), books of quirky maps drawn by strangers whom the artist solicited for directions, a project begun in the ’60s—act as a counterpoint to the more straight-ahead interpretations of systems and formalism throughout the rest of the show. Brouwn’s work records physical distances between people and places (sometimes to an absurd degree) and deals with the natural oscillation between the precision and intuition in the ways people navigate space. Unfortunately, none of this is discernible, given the constraints of how his pieces are displayed.

Still, Forms and Inflections makes clear the connections between ’60s and ’70s giants and the young artists who work in their wake today. The show’s premise points toward the very origins of systems theory and the way information is organized, which fascinated Minimalists and contemporary artists alike, and which has resulted in a digital revolution that has stretched from around 1970 into the present moment. Ultimately this show leaves unanswered the question of how our immersion in the digital age has affected art practice. In turn, a viewer is left to wonder what the poetic breakdown of pure form in art says about culture more generally. By its very nature, Forms and Inflections observes a strong contemporary trend but is too immersed in it to see the broader implications. Time may provide a longer view, but for now, Silverman Gallery has assembled a fantastic set of snapshots.



Forms and Inflections is on view at Silverman Gallery, in San Francisco, through August 20, 2011.


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