Los Angeles


Dwan Gallery

Alongside the most prominent current art styles, Arakawa’s artistic attitude is another approach that seems to be emerging within the context of contemporary Western painting. This approach may be likened to Duchamp’s schematization of concepts; that is the use of a visual context as pure device, or merely the solidification of a perceptive concept. It is on the basis of this approach to esthetic interpretation that so much of contemporary art is attacked as essentially anti-art, anti-visual, and even anti-human. Of course nothing could be further from the truth, yet one cannot deny the manifold complexities of interpreting an art diametrically opposed to the traditional Western response of art as a retinal reaction to a stimulus resulting in an essentially retinal conclusion upon the painting ground.

The communicative device is called schematics, and Arakawa’s direction in this exhibit is nothing other than the schematization of his perceptions, fixed upon some tangible, material support. It is also a record of an esthetic reaction too intimate to accept the chancy connotations of a more universal grammar, yet far too precise to avoid the perfection of a “scientific” methodology. Once established, the grammar becomes completely subjective, and a specific nomenclature must be developed that is meaningless without the keys of translation.

The association to Duchampian esthetics is too close to avoid. In fact, Arakawa has also made a large glass, about his style. All the details are carried to just the right degree of completion to tell you the whole ugly story without getting tedious. Nor does the artist bore us with accusations or solutions. Instead we are free to inspect this encyclopedia of sin, unoppressed many sculptors in utilizing the gestural space for their aerial quality as they which contains, as a primary component, Duchamp’s Bride. Both works look superficially alike, and although it goes without saying that the latter would never have been created without the former (it is outrageously dependent), Arakawa seems determined to force a comparison of the differences. They are, specifically, Arakawa’s lyricism, an even more mundane nomenclature, and a totally asexual neutrality certainly removed from Duchamp’s powerful psychosexuality. In spite of similar method, both artists speak of two entirely different things, and one cannot help but discover in Arakawa’s oeuvre an unyielding fidelity to subtlety rather than obscurity, to visual handsomeness rather than aggressive tension but most of all, an acceptance of Arakawa’s own personal taste––a complete reversal of Duchamp’s anxiety to free himself from the limitations of “taste” as an esthetic orientation.

Much 20th-century art, like poetry, utilizes a grammar to express the at­mosphere of a concept, the feeling that an artistic effort is more readily com­municable at an almost subliminal level of perception. The premise is that a specific understanding of the nomen­clature should be unnecessary. Du­champ’s Bride doubtlessly expresses a mood, and one has no doubt of its monumental, metaphysical tensions. Yet for all its awesome intensity, its specific meaning is made clear only through frankly “literary” keys. Spe­cifically, these keys are often found within the title of the work itself, or in the fortunate existence of things like Duchamp’s Green Box, or in ac­tual conversations with the artist. An­other example, to illustrate the device of literary translation, is the sculptor H. C. Westermann who, through titles or actual words stamped into the sur­face, makes his intention absolutely clear. Arakawa’s keys are found in his titles, for the most part: The Hook Lives Near the Ocean; The Comb is so Attracted to the Hook that it Runs to Meet it. They Touch—and the Butter­fly Appears.The viewer now has to translate the title.

Claire Wolfe