Los Angeles

John McCracken

Douglas Gallery (Vancouver, B.C.)

The John McCracken exhibition at Douglas Gallery in Vancouver, B.C., is as near-perfect a show as you’d want; it may not be as spectacular and moving as other Ace exhibitions (Andre, Sonnier), but it’s airtight, a kind of collaboration between artist and gallery which combines the best of the show which is “done” on commission and the integrity of works done “regardless” in the studio and then shipped out. The space is reasonably large, and the eight planks, a number critical to McCracken in this series, just fit the place. The pieces are new planks, still leaning, hollow, thick boards, only now openly made up of other boards, uncoated with fiberglass and candy-apple paint. Each is ten feet high, a little over two feet across and three or four inches deep; each has thirty horizontal one-by-fours making up its front and back side, nailed (two to a board) on a narrow, tall “frame.” All are painted/stained the same gray, through which are visible the varying grains, knotholes, yellows, browns and pencil lines of/on the lumber, and each is stamped/signed, on the lower right-hand side “No 1–8, John McCracken, 1970.” The installation, which is half the success of the show, is crucial: clockwise—one on the short wall to the left, four along the main wall, one on a little dog-leg wall, and two on a shorter wall to the right. There are at least eight feet between each and they all seem to be about a foot out from the wall at base, though McCracken, in installing, does no measuring, as such; it’s all done on “look.” Overhead, a multiplicity of bared spotlights throws each plank into even, bisymmetrical light; it’s simple, and even silly-sounding laid out in words, but it is tough. The sensations, in order of occurrence in me, are these: 1) a very human (person-like, vertical) “presence” of “something,” 2) articulation of the wall so that the pieces seem at once joined and separate from their support, 3) a fine, calculated rhythm among the planks and the space as one looks/walks around the room, 4) a continued revelation of “color” through the gray paint and surface of the pieces, 5) a feeling, somehow, possibly erroneously, that something is being expressed, a feeling of, OK, real art. McCracken seems the most austerely conceptual of Los Angeles vanguard artists (though he’s more physical than, say, Peter Alexander), and, temperamentally, the most “New York” in his pushing the ideological ruination (instead of celebration) of his object; McCracken—and I have always liked this sort of thing—tries to get through, not around, the limits of his art object, to get at something transcendental.

Peter Plagens