Critics’ Picks

Terry Atkinson, Slat Greaser Trough 2, 1990–2014, wood, grease, 84 x 120 x 7”.

Terry Atkinson, Slat Greaser Trough 2, 1990–2014, wood, grease, 84 x 120 x 7”.


Terry Atkinson

Yale Union (YU)
800 SE 10th Avenue
November 8–December 21, 2014

It’s hard to believe this is British artist Terry Atkinson’s first comprehensive solo exhibition in America, but considering his stubborn opposition to market-driven notions of mastery and his investment in leftist politics, maybe it’s not such a surprise after all. This important show consists of the artist’s graphite drawings and multimedia paintings exploring WWI history, as well as a group of related sculptures incorporating grease.

Like many of Atkinson’s sculptures incorporating the material, Slat Greaser Trough 2, 1990–2014, was conceived decades ago, but was reconstructed by the venue for this exhibition. Mounted on the wall, the piece is a large construction composed of two angled fir panels diagonally crossed by a narrow trough filled with dark, industrial grease. The trough faces outward, haltingly discharging the viscous goo across the work’s surface and onto the floor. In dialogue with self-reproducing art from the postwar period such as Jean Tinguely’s “Métamatic” drawing machines, Atkinson’s grease works are organic systems that both generate and degrade themselves in real time.

Atkinson describes grease as a “disaffirming material” that “catches incidents that fall between levels of representation.” His interest in subversive and liminal meaning also speaks to historical collusions between art, capitalism, and military power. He has studied these relationships extensively—including the CIA’s promotion of American abstraction during the Cold War period and MoMA’s historical ties to the US government—in his own work and as a part of the groundbreaking Art & Language group he cofounded in 1966. Through his incisive writings, sumptuously disturbing sculptures, and eerie, realistic drawings, Atkinson tackles conflict and exploitation while acknowledging that memory is a changeable, sticky phenomenon.