New York

Robert Whitman

Pace | 32 East 57th Street

About the only short term conclusion one can draw from Robert Whitman’s “environment” called “Dark” at the Pace Gallery, is that the more sophisticated the technology at an artist’s disposal—in this case a thankfully harmless laser beam—the more absurdly minimal his dramatic effect. Of course, this won’t do as a generalization, but the fact remains that the thin red, self-erasing or slightly dipping ribbons of granulated light that laterally bisect the darkened chambers of the gallery are quite a come-down for the man who had earlier given us the cinematic and live action composite called Prune Flat.

Whitman’s interest in programming projected images, his using of human beings as screens for the filming of their own gestures, his obsession with the theme of unwrapping or molting, all of which once had such poetic overtones, here evaporates—momentarily, one hopes—into an electronic pencil that can think of nothing very intelligent to write. The fact that his little centrally located “lighthouses,” with their fabulously expensive generators, represent months of research, did not guarantee any additional interest in his undertaking. An enormous disparity between cause and effect indicates, rather, only a need for greater imagination. It could be that Whitman wants to align himself with the hypnotic non-compositions of Dan Flavin or Carl Andre, that he wants to abstract his vision as drastically as theirs. But in that event, he still abandons one of the modest prerequisites that makes their work possible—tangibility. “Dark” lacks both the mobility and radiance of light in art, and the “thingness” of minimal sculpture. Neither the unexplained fluctuations of his mercury vapor band in one room, nor the circumstantial interruptions of his ribbon made by passing spectators in the other two, compensates for the overall static impression made by this dim spectacle. Unredeemed by Billy Kluver’s ingenious plumbing, “Dark” wanders in the limbo between science and esthetics.

Max Kozloff