1.13 / Review

Implied

By Matt Stromberg April 20, 2010

Upon entering Rebecca Goldfarb’s solo show, “Implied” at the smartly designed Baer Ridgway Gallery, one finds brightly colored photographs, mixed-media constructions, and sculptural installations. It may come as a surprise that she is considered a conceptual artist. Her work is, after all, a far cry from the minimal text-based pieces commonly associated with Conceptualism.

The conceptual art of the ’60s is perhaps best summarized by Sol LeWitt’s dictum that “the idea of concept is the most important aspect of the work,”1 followed by Lawrence Weiner’s statement that “the piece need not to be built.”2 Characterized by typed directives, written descriptions of objects, and performance, conceptual artists favored language and idea above the visual perception of retinal art. In doing so, they brought attention to and challenged the traditional economic, social, and linguistic networks inherent in institutions of high culture. What ties Goldfarb to her predecessors is a reliance on language—and humor—to draw our attention to their work as part of a larger network of forces. There is indeed an important visual element here, but the works are not just retinal: they exist, as she notes, at the nexus of “language, thought, memory, and sense.”

Take, for instance, “Who’s Afraid of Fuel, Food and Water?” (2010), a triptych of three large photographs, each in a saturated primary color, and each depicting a faint image of one of the eponymous items. Goldfarb is responding not only to Barnett Newman’s iconic 1966 color field painting, Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?, but also to Minimalist artist Robert Irwin’s 2006 sculptural work of the same name, which extended Newman’s exploration of color into three dimensions. Goldfarb takes this conversation one step further by questioning the insular nature of the earlier works and equating the primacy of basic human needs with primary colors. Newman and Irwin addressed largely formal concerns, pushing the limits of their respective mediums and the works’ relationship to the viewer. Goldfarb expands this inquiry to include associations beyond the physical parameters of the artwork itself. Nearby, a blank piece of white photographic paper, “Polar Bear” (2010)—presumably capturing the animal eating vanilla ice cream in a blizzard—alludes to the viewer’s role in helping to create the work. It provides a superfluous, if humorous, punctuation to this visual phrase.

Titles are integral to an understanding of Goldfarb’s work and, while they often elucidate deeper connections, this reliance can sometimes seem cumbersome. In Traveling Through Darkness: Some Sense of the World Turned on 

“Who’s Afraid of Fuel, Food and Water?” 2010; archival inkjet; 38 x 38 in. each. Courtesy of the Artist and Baer Ridgway Exhibitions, San Francisco.

Traveling Through Darkness: Some Sense of the World Turned on When Flaneur and Collector Meet for the Second Time, 2010; flashlights, wax, boxes, poplar wood; 90 x 90 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Baer Ridgway Exhibitions, San Francisco.

When Flaneur and Collector Meet for the Second Time (2010), a wood shelving unit displays the artist’s collection of flashlights, interspersed with colored wax casts of the same flashlights. The piece investigates the way collecting imparts objects with a secondary layer of meaning. The wax casts are further removed from the flashlights’ original function and thus imbued with a yet another layer of meaning, which casts doubt on the nature of their authenticity. The title is perhaps a reference to one of Gustave Courbet’s most well-known paintings The Meeting, or “Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet” (1854), which portrays a meeting between the vagabond artist and his collector, Alfred Bruyas. Both works draw our attention to the changing identities objects take on after they enter into a network of commerce.

The most aesthetically consistent group of works in the show is a series of framed postcards, mostly of mountain and nature scenes, into which Goldfarb has sewn a string that enters into the pictorial narrative. Each string then exits through a hole in the frame and trails off into the gallery. Very simply and lyrically, Goldfarb ties the two-dimensional fictional narrative in the postcards to the three-dimensional space of the gallery. Implying More (2010), a particularly succinct postcard that stands as a visual embodiment of the show’s title, depicts a stream as crudely cut swaths of colored blue paper spill from the postcard, extending the work beyond the boundaries of the frame and into our real space.

By stressing the primacy of the idea and the importance of language in her work, Goldfarb attempts to create meaning beyond the purely physical properties of each piece. Although well crafted and visually engaging, it is their conceptual base that grounds these seemingly disparate works and lends them a sense of unity.

 

“Implied” is on view at Baer Ridgway Exhibitions in San Francisco through May 1, 2010.


NOTES:

1. Sol LeWitt, “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” Artforum 5, no. 10 (June 1967): 79.
2. Lawrence Weiner, untitled statement (2 July to 7 September 1970), in Information, Kynaston L. McShine (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1970), 134.

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