New York

Lyman Kipp

Betty Parsons Gallery

The familiar Lyman Kipp, an elegant variation of Vantongerloo, nice enough in itself, has been updated without being upgraded in this most recent showing at Betty Parsons Gallery. No longer content with de Stijl exercises in the ornamental potentialities of the mere cube (though de Stijl apologists would balk at the word “ornamental”), Kipp has blown scale up to monumental proportions. There is no real sense of the monumental in these Dolmens. Monumentality is after all a larger-than-life appearance, or an experience of that appearance, whether or not it is accompanied by the grandiose physical fact. Kipp has caught the part about the physical fact while remaining a fashioner of “objets de curiosite,” objects at one remove from mineral formations or vaseline-glass paperweights. The Dolmens pretend to the formidable and awesome. They are colored in vast planes of red and blue. One can walk through them.

Unfortunately Kipp’s Instant Stonehenge is only a “look,” a brutalist mannerism betrayed by a number of deflective ploys that give his timidity away at every turn beneath his post and lintel archways. Each relationship, opposition, comparison, has a time-honored antecedent. In bright appeals to our emotions Kipp reminds us of other figures and calls attention to his polite scholasticism. The alternations between a blue square (the end of a blue crossbeam resting on a red pier) or its blipped red mate (the end of a red cross beam on a blue pier) is a Rietveldian concession to “structural interest.” The alternation between the (formation ground plan and the Z-formation plan is a switch of the same ingratiating order—modest attempts at diversified yet simple visual activity. The changes between red plane and blue plane as one moves through the Dolmen is pretty and predictable.

An authentic artistic sensibility is at work here—but it is being trivialized. The occupation of the cubic white gallery by Kipp’s architectural sculpture reveals the artist’s (all too) delicate feeling for planar subdivision and spatial interplay. Kipp is being smothered in a tradition which includes Brancusi, a dozen major names from the twenties, and, more recently, Kiesler and even Miro. Beyond initial confrontation scant issues serve to recommend Kipp’s unusually scaled pieces. If he is interested in minimal statement and artistic autonomy, if he wants to say Damn the Viewer, then he should not leave teasing petticoat hints lying about. He should have the courage to really exclude the viewer. That might make for urgency and strength where one now only encounters tastefulness and preciosity.

Robert Pincus-Witten