Los Angeles

Marvin Harden

Eugenia Butler Gallery

In a dozen intricate pencil drawings, Marvin Harden’s personal inventory is a good deal more cohesive, mechanically simple, detailed, but, at least for nrie, less expressive. At this early point, at the risk of overstepping some critical and possibly ethical bounds, I would note that Harden is black, while I am white, and that we are acquaintances. Moreover, Harden is actively conscious of his color and its history, and I find myself, concurrently, slowly sliding away from pseudo-objectivism i.e., “just show me the stuff and don’t tell me about who did it” toward a more contextual set, i.e., realizing the basic structure of my opinions resides in my semi-intellectual, Wasp middle-classness. In short, there may be a couple of things about Harden’s drawings that I just don’t get and, until the Revolution, I never will. On the other hand, Harden’s style, aside from his design and juxtapositions, is purely academic beaux arts rendering and, obviously, it is intended to impress on the basis of successful recitation of exacting “realism”; having gone to a surfeit of art schools, too, I should be able to grasp at least that part of his art.

The dozen drawings at Eugenia Butler were first shown this winter at the Whitney Museum. The installation involves each sheet of deckle edge creme paper (the walls have been painted to match) to be sandwiched between two larger sheets of plexiglass, bolted together in chromium at the corners; this object is then hung by two large silver hooks which screw into the wall and protrude through holes in theframe. It does look nice but, since there’s nothing special gained here in clarity over a more standard framing/hanging, I assume that the installation is supposed to convey a kind of elegant brutality. The image in each of the twelve is similar: a rough rectangular area of impeccably drawn parquet cross-hatching, an inner area (sometimes) of ruled grid or striations like a miniature LeWitt, and one or more “realistic” tiny horses or cows. With his pencil technique, Harden manufactures several effects: (1) the pencil medium forms a strong bond or common denominator between the flooring and the cows, (2) the “abstract” part is executed with as much, or more, precision as the. “realistic,” giving it a concreteness which in turn gives a little more substance to the drawings, and (3) the “realistic” image, though photographically “true,” contains smudges, which flatten it into a parity with the parquet. The only real drawbacks Harden encounters are the ruled lines, which don’t fit, and an occasional tricky-wavy silhouette on one of the rectangles. Otherwise, the drawings are austere, mature conjurings of personal motif-images, made communicable to a mass audience through a mastering of traditional art. That conclusion may, of course, have something to do with the barrier with which I began this account; I did go over the titles, long, lower-case examples of free verse, much of which I gather is original (not quotes from modern poetry), but picked up little help. However, I have even more trouble with personal statements than images; for instance, the title one does not exclude such thoughts; they simply fall away when found to be unnecessary, strikes me first as equivocal. “Found to be unnecessary” involves as much a judgment as being made to “exclude,” so one does, in the end, exclude. Perhaps that is the trouble in trying to find the core of an unfamiliar content done in such a familiar way: one may simply be excluded.

Peter Plagens