New York

John McCracken

Robert Elkon Gallery

At the Robert Elkon Gallery, slightly confused visitors walked among seven sets of mute, white, rectangular plywood boxes which flanked the length of the single room, asking where the John McCracken show could be seen. To viewers who have been accustomed to the lustrous polish of McCracken’s elegant epoxy-finished planks, richly coated with appealing colors like plum or lipstick red, the neutrality and unglamorous coolness of these constructed modular forms is quietly unsettling. Spaced 58 inches apart across the length of the gallery floor and reaching over seven feet in height, the columnar boxes seem to usurp the environmental space almost stealthily. They make you more acutely aware of the room’s confines, its shape, and its interior surfaces. Floor and ceiling become more obvious horizontally planar limits, while the brightly lit white walls line a shadow-less, luminous region for the self-contained grouping of monolithic, anonymous forms.

Compositional repetition and reiteration is not entirely new to McCracken’s work, nor is the use of light bouncing off bright surfaces—although now he has apparently shifted his emphasis away from a seductive surface. Neither is the formal difference from previous work as radical as one might assume at first: just as the shiny mirror like surfaces of the planks reflect and interact with the environments in which they are placed, now the multiple and identical white columns take on this role of environmental interaction more actively. They operate upon the actual space in a more deliberate regimented manner than the casually positioned leaning planks are apt to do. Expressively and sensuously, the planks are more accessible to the eye and hand, while this new arrangement is certainly more resistant to such responses, focusing instead on a wider spatial context and a more direct, circulating physicality, which relates to the body as a whole.

The aura of ritualistic, processional ordering inevitable in such a regularized organization is what I found most pretentious about McCracken’s new approach to reductive form; and yet, what was most interesting was how the chalky, tall, white boxes in the white room charged the simple occupation of the space of that room with energy.

Emily Wasserman