Critics’ Picks

Charles Gaines, Skybox I, 2011, acrylic, digital print, polyester film and LED lights, changing light system, fixtures and tracks, three boxes, 84“ x 12' x 5”.

New York

Charles Gaines

Paula Cooper Gallery | 521 West 21st Street
521 West 21st Street
September 7–October 5

Charles Gaines rejects the idea that transcendence exists in his art. Nevertheless, the four bodies of work on display in his latest exhibition, “Notes on Social Justice,” are vibrant juxtapositions that vacillate between Gaines’s preferred rule-based methods and the sublime. This is seen clearly in Skybox 1, 2011, in which a seven-by-twelve-foot light box displays images of revolutionary texts by Gerrard Winstanley, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Frantz Fanon, and Ho Chi Minh. Every seven minutes the lights illuminating these texts fade, gradually revealing a bright star field that soon comes to dominate the now completely darkened viewing space. The installation plays between two types of momentousness, one social, the other astral, turning time itself into a part of the material composition of the piece.

“Night/Crimes,” 1994–95, is a series of framed photographs. Each piece consists of silkscreened text and three images: an incarcerated murderer, the scene of an unrelated crime, and a star-filled night sky. There is no implied relation between the two crime-based images and the photo of the sky. This absence of contextualization can lead to either an inferred correlation or a total escape on the part of the viewer, thus rendering any interpretation ethical and aesthetic as well as—Gaines would likely add—outside the bounds of the work. In Manifesto 2, 2013, excerpts from four manifestos from various cultures and eras are each set to musical scores drawn on large wall-mounted graphite. The musical notations are the result of a translation code devised by Gaines through which each letter of the text is assigned a corresponding musical note. These are accompanied by four single-channel colored monitors that each scroll through the text of a manifesto. Meanwhile, the installation from which the exhibition derives its name, “Notes on Social Justice,” delivers on its titular pun with its drawings that take the form of Civil War–era sheet music while the lyrics therein are taken from contemporary texts denouncing widespread social injustices.