PRINT February 1974

Jaime Davidovich

WHEN, IN 1963 AT THE age of twenty-six, Jaime Davidovich emigrated from Argentina to the United States, he brought with him his most recent paintings, a series of small landscapes. These sought to evoke the unending terrain of the Pampas, to realize within a vocabulary of limited means an image of unlimited implications.

Although Davidovich’s work has changed during the last ten years in terms of materials, scale, and space, what has remained constant is his interest in confronting the environment, and his desire to illuminate the inherent physical and metaphysical properties of this environment with a minimum manipulation of the pictorial materials.

The major transformation in Davidovich’s work occurred in 1967 when he began to seek ways to dissolve the discordant object/background relationship in his paintings.

Davidovich’s initial solution to this problem was to continue to work on a stretched canvas which he then removed from the stretchers and placed directly on the wall. While the merging of the canvas and the wall surface pleased him, the jarring note suggested by the pushpins, together with the need to cope with the sheer weight of the canvas, ultimately led Davidovich to the use of industrial tapes in various colors, materials, and sizes.

The earliest piece which Davidovich exhibited using tape was in 1971 in a group show sponsored by the Cleveland chapter of E.A.T. at Lake Erie College in Painesville. In this spacious campus gallery, Davidovich was given a 15’ x 35’ wall. He covered it with alternating horizontal strips of white cloth tape, white paper tape, and canvas painted with white acrylic in sizes varying from 4” to 15”. Without destroying the architectural entity, Davidovich was able to develop a composition based on the rhythmic repetition of the lines and planes of the joined and banded materials and to present a surface that was modulated by the shifting play of colors and light which emerged from the differences inherent in the materials. Like the perception of the Pampas, limited only by the physical limitations of the eye, the imagery of the wall at Lake Erie implied a potentially endless statement, inhibited only by the arbitrary dimensions of the format.

Davidovich had his first one-man show in February, 1971, in Cleveland, the city in which he has lived since 1967 when he left New York. The exhibition at John Carroll University gave Davidovich the opportunity to create a total environment with his tapes. The beige burlap, which was on the walls of the gallery, was augmented by a play of Scotch 5” green cloth tapes and burlap stripes painted by Davidovich. These areas of color were used to delineate features of the room such as windows, alcoves, and beams, and to establish a pictorial harmony within the room by providing the environmental composition with various counterbalancing shapes.

The John Carroll room was followed by a tape and wall project of January, 1973, as part of a group show with five other young regional artists, at the Akron Art Institute. Davidovich covered the entire 10’ x 60’ wall of the gallery with a single material, a 4” clear vinyl tape. Letting his composition emerge from the indigenous properties of the material, Davidovich created a field, literally constructed in an additive manner, which appeared to subdivide the wall into a series of vertical grids. These modules not only decentralized the picture surface and created a pattern of line and plane across the surface of the image, but also provided a geometric foundation for the randomly placed, amorphously shaped patterns of air bubbles which appear in the process of applying the vinyl tape. From these chance visual incidences came a sense of the physical space that projected forth from the surface plane. The shallow cast shadows enhanced the illusion of spatial dimension.

In November of 1971, again participating in an E.A.T. exhibition, Davidovich used alternating stripes of yellow and white 10” paper tapes to delineate the winding staircase space which led to the Fine Arts Gallery at John Carroll University. Davidovich was able to imply an experience comparable to the endlessness of a conveyor belt, while accentuating the jagged geometry of the stairs.

In May, 1972, Davidovich did his first outdoor piece, a commission for the New Gallery in Cleveland. On Belleflower Road, in the heart of the Case Western Reserve University campus, is a two-block-long sidewalk which extends from the New Gallery to the Cleveland Museum of Art. On this walk the artist suggested a series of “Stations” which followed the existing organization of the walk. He divided his composition into two parts. On one section he covered the incised areas between the blocks of cement with a 1” white cloth tape to emphasize the negative space. On the other section, he used a 15” white paper tape cut at each seam line to emphasize the positive space of the walk. The work lasted approximately a year, during which time the pristine geometry and color underwent constant change from human use and the weather.

In the 1973 Whitney Biennial, Davidovich’s penchant for exploring the possibilities of wasted space, and more importantly, space where the viewer does not expect art to be found, led him to work with the museum’s staircase well, a space 40’ high, 18’ wide, and 5’ deep. Here Davidovich applied 5” cloth tapes to three panels of microfoam, a packing material which he had stained brownish gray with dirt. The narrow interstices between the separate panels of microfoam permitted the textured wall of the architecture to become an integral part of the work. By choosing to place his idea in this particular space, Davidovich was able to program the nature of the spectator’s relationship to his work. Unlike most art, which is perceived as a total unit upon entering the gallery space, the unique nature of the stairwell inhibits one from encountering the whole work at once from a static location. One encounters the piece as part of a journey which one is literally forced to make, moving first closer to the object and then being compelled to delete it from one’s visual frame of reference, only to reencounter it from yet another perspective on a different landing. The quiet harmony of the long vertical lines, the knowledge of pictorial continuity is physically broken, while a contrapuntal tension arises from the sense of anticipation and past experience.

The Whitney project was followed by another stair piece done in May, 1973, for the New Gallery. However, unlike the Whitney project which dealt primarily with the implications of the mass of the wall surface, the piece at the New Gallery was concerned with the articulation of a hollow core of light-filled space. In this 35’ x 5’ space, an area in which the object could be perceived continuously and on both sides, Davidovich placed 2” cloth tapes sprayed gray on the translucent microfoam backing at 1” intervals. The relationship between the tape and the microfoam was based on a reversal of the proportional relationship established by the positive mass of the banister poles and the negative space between them.

Bathed by the natural light from the three levels of bay windows behind this curtain of tape, the intensity of contrasts between the transparent areas of backing and the gray, opaque tape established an image constantly in flux depending on the quality of light. At night, lit by artificial light, the piece took on yet another dimension, one which underscored the experience of the soaring height of the object.

Each of Davidovich’s pieces is done for a unique space. They cannot be duplicated in another area as their shape and content are determined by the particular conditions of the environment Davidovich seeks to articulate. For this reason his piece, originally planned for the September, 1973, group show at the Bykert Gallery in New York, remained in the photographic stage. Initially, Davidovich had planned to use yellow cloth tapes to visually enunciate what he saw as a “shaped canvas,” the dropped ceiling which held the gallery lights. Conceived when the room was empty, the presence of paintings on the lateral walls destroyed that sense of contemplation which Davidovich had originally sought.

Having chosen a space in or on which he wishes to work, Davidovich proceeds by making a series of photographs and drawings. Davidovich’s second step is to augment these drawings and photographs with tapes. We see a highly developed three-dimensional image on what we know to be a two-dimensional surface. Conversely, we can feel the three-dimensional form of the tape, but it is employed to reiterate the two-dimensional planometric character of the rigid geometric shape.

Carolyn Kinder Carr