New York

Dorothea Rockburne

Bykert Gallery Downtown

Dorothea Rockburne’s exhibition is at once deep and serene. Numerous threads of her work derive from the disintegration of minimalist sensibility. Among them are floor dispersal, environmental clues, sheer materiality, eccentric substances and an expository presentation. Paper, cardboard sheets, graphite powder and crude oil shape the vocabulary of her work. It would appear, at first, that Rockburne organizes floor and wall units out of pure volition, a taste related both to the memory of the Cubist grid and to the amorphousness of the liquid field atmospheres one associates with Louis. But to see only this is to ignore the artist’s real core. She presents a complex attachment to set theory which formed the central preoccupation of Sol LeWitt’s work from the later ’60s on, and which could be seen as well in certain non-linguistic experiments conducted by Mel Bochner some two or three years ago. But in LeWitt’s and Bochner’s usage the work of art is coeval with the fullest and truest demonstration of the exact permutations inherent in the exposition of any given set. Moreover, the simple sets are hung with greater freedom, with shape-to-shape comparison and wall-to-floor utilization predicated on a subjective basis, which has no parallel in the basically mathematical premises of LeWitt or Bochner and which disaffiliates her art from theirs.

In one work, for example, Rockburne takes the set to be expressed through the modular arrangement of four rectangular sheets of cardboard. The unit may be perceived as one whole, as two halves, as four quarters. This obviousness is violated throughout, geometrical precision being revoked in favor of an exquisite and sober pictorial dispersal. In this work cardboard rectangles have been colored by a soaking-in of crude oil. Dried, they reveal the organic nature of pressed pulp. The coloristic vocabulary alludes to the subtle ranges of substance and hue common to Keith Sonnier and Eva Hesse as well. These panels have been aligned upon a wall immediately above a dark stained floor. To the left of this conceivably Andre-like series of cardboard rectangles is the roll of paper upon which the sheets had first been stained. The roll descends from the wall out into the room. On the paper bed rests still another sheet of board, a pool of crude oil slickly congealing around it. I think Rockburne’s work to be among the most rare and beautiful experiments being conducted at the moment. Rockburne’s debut confirms the truism that art comes from art without in any sense inferring that the sensibility we are working with is even remotely imitative.

Robert Pincus-Witten