New York

Group Shows

Rykert Gallery, Paula Cooper Gallery

Two exhibitions of startlingly high achievement were held at the Bykert Gallery and at Paula Cooper. They might have been taken as Uptown and Downtown manifestations of the same excellence. In the case of perhaps the most fascinating artists in question—such as Dorothea Rockburne and Richard Van Buren—they were shown at both. The Van Buren shown Downtown was particularly handsome, I mean in the way in which jagged and cracked plastic edges were aligned along parallel diagonals.

Another work, at Bykert, by Gordon Matta, strove to unite a sprawling environmental and coloristic sensibility—I hope covered by the term "Sonnier-like”—with the systems of ecological aspiration of the kind associated, say, with Peter Hutchinson. In Gordon Matta’s work the jungle metaphor was signified by a tangle of vines strung up above pans of an agar-like substance in which organisms were seen to be clotting, multiplying and solidifying. At intervals, I believe, the rubbery surfaces of the micro-organic clusters were cut free and hung about the assemblage. In a darkened corner of the room a microscope was set up through which the cell structure of these cultures could be examined. The lengthy description of this work is far in excess of its effectiveness, and yet it had a kind of homage to Paul de Kruif that is curiously nostalgic.

Dorothea Rockburne is far more interesting and difficult. Ostensibly she is interested in the materiality of puIp substances, particularly paper and cardboard sheets. Inescapably, since her configurations are so severely geometrical, she suggests a kind of Cubist subdivision, which emphasizes plane, edge and shallow space. And yet, I doubt that this is what her art is about. If anything, she queries the meaning of matter and of surface, questioning for example the absorbency of paper onto which oil or graphite may have been carefully rubbed. Or the tensile potential of paper is tested, or the manner in which it bunches, falls or is penetrated. The last is a function of the means by which the artist appends the paper to the wall, often piercing it with large nails. Such an analytic turn of mind indicates that Miss Rockburne’s affiliations are with Serra or Andre rather than with the atmospheric or coloristic sensibility of Sonnier or the late Eva Hesse. I hazard to say that of all the extremely promising work I saw for the first time in the spring of this year either in Gallery (e.g. Thomas Bang at O.K. Harris) or Studio (e.g. Terrence Lanoue), Miss Rockburne’s strikes me as being the most unlike any of the hardprized generalizations that one attempts to extract from the extraordinary breadth of progressive sculpture of the last two years. This says it very weakly since Miss Rockburne is surely inventing in an area of sculpture (drawing?, painting?) in which the postulates have scarcely even been set.

Last. An extraordinary work by George Kuehn was also shown at Paula Cooper. Hanging from a wooden slat was a fold of polyethylene sheeting caught up at either end by a sling of rope. Although the ends remained open a small trough was formed into which water was poured producing a long, contained pool which bottomed out at the baseboard. The work was impressive if clearly in the train of both Sonnier and Hesse.

Robert Pincus-Witten