New York

Richard Long

Dwan Gallery

Richard Long’s two new untitled works provide useful material for an exercise in Minimal valuation. I do not mean that they are intended to do this; in fact, from one point of view, it would be a failure if they were.

Each work occupies a room to itself at the Dwan Gallery. The larger, and also the one you encounter first, is a spiral of gray footprints from tracked clay mud that winds from a corner of the room into its center. It is impossible not to think of Smithson’s Spiral Jetty at the Great Salt Lake. While the spiral motif has a primeval history, Smithson’s is surely the great work using it in our age, and much more than that—a magnificent participation in natural creation. Long’s work, which almost asks to be compared with it, because formally it is simply a large spiral, and because it is a very literary, even satirical, intrusion of landscape into a city room and onto the very carpet, is but a meagre shadow. Consider the sense of scale. A photograph of Smithson’s reveals its grandeur and amplitude: it could be fifty miles wide, it could be the (very pleasant) pattern of a whole planned town, or it could have been made by God. A photo of Long’s, on the other hand, might suggest something on the order of a Danish pastry. (I am not trying to make fun of the Long, only to furnish a knockdown for its obvious set-up.)

The same critical-foiling Minimalist principle which often makes it deliberately difficult to make judgments of quality, makes it easy in this case to see that Long’s smaller piece, in Dwan’s back room, is better than his muddy footprints. It is composed of four concentric rings on the floor, each of them, in turn, composed of neatly chopped, twig-sized sticks of wood laid end to end. Possibly it is just this relation of elemental unit to formal unit (ring) to whole which makes this work seem crisp, competent, and in a pleasing, calming way, beautiful.

Joseph Masheck