Los Angeles

Giulio Paolini, Untitled (Plakat Carton), 1962.

Giulio Paolini, Untitled (Plakat Carton), 1962.

Los Angeles

Beyond Geometry: Experiments in Form 1940s–70s

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
5905 Wilshire Boulevard
June 13–October 3, 2004

Miami Art Museum
101 West Flagler Street
November 18, 2004–May 1, 2005

Curated by Lynn Zelevansky

Minimalism is big this year. Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art rolled out “A Minimal Future? Art as Object, 1958–1968,” while the Guggenheim Museum in New York offered “Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated): Art from 1951 to the Present.” With this pair of surveys, what more could one want? Enter “Beyond Geometry: Experiments in Form 1940s–70s,” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Where the former two shows focused on the heyday of American Minimalism, the LACMA exhibition is composed of an international selection of artists and reaches back to 1944 to explore the roots of minimal geometries in the work of such artists as Max Bill from Switzerland, Gyula Kosice from Argentina, and Carmelo Arden Quin from Uruguay. In fact, well over half the artists hail from Europe and South America. Bill is a key figure in this transcontinental narrative: His airless interpretation of Mondrian exerted a significant influence in South America in the ’50s (thanks partly to his inclusion in the 1951 São Paulo biennial), as well as in Europe, spawning an array of movements and countermovements. Comprising some 130 artists, “Beyond Geometry” shows no more than a few works by each of them, even though almost all worked in series. But what the show lacks in depth, it makes up for in breadth. The exhibition title, which really means geometry and beyond (including kinetic, Op, body, Conceptual, performance, and installation art), seems to welcome every spot and stripe. The challenge, then, is organizing such diversity. Lynn Zelevansky, LACMA’s curator of modern and contemporary art, nicely addresses this concern in her catalogue essay by pointing out that “geometric art” was never much of a category anyway, since the works placed under that heading often fuse rule and reason with intuition, even irrationality. She points to the measured absurdity of Duchamp’s Three Standard Stoppages and the dual persona of Theo van Doesburg as Dada provocateur and de Stijl engineer. The wide-ranging van Doesburg is an especially apt figure to invoke: His 1930 definition of Concrete Art called for works “entirely conceived and formulated” in advance, making him an early Conceptualist in addition to his other guises. Judging from the serious catalogue, the exhibition should work hard to make sense of all the ground it covers. So forget the advance quibbles: Simply to bring to light this international history and the artists who made it, alongside the more familiar North Americans, is a great service. Prepare to have your head spun round and your eyes opened. And remember what Emerson said about that most primary cipher: “The eye is the first circle.”