New York

Keith Sonnier, Richard Serra, Bruce Nauman, and Robert Morris

Castelli’s first use of its downtown space for screening works on film by Keith Sonnier, Richard Serra, Bruce Nauman, and Robert Morris was poorly handled. A total of 16 films were shown, and all were screened on one long wall. Sometimes there were as many as four films going at once, making it impossible to concentrate on a single one for its duration, and occasionally causing a clash of sound tracks, though most of the films were silent.

Surprisingly, not much came out of this show except Richard Serra’s films which have been for the most part reviewed previously in these columns. The two newest ones, Paul Revere and Color-aid were described in the September 1971 Artforum by Serra himself. Color-aid was interesting in that it seemed to shift between being a simple colored light projection and being a film. It consists of sequential close-ups of color-aid swatches interrupted only by Serra’s hand which removes one swatch every so often to reveal the next. The “shots”—created within the single shot of the film by the hand-wipes of swatches—vary in duration, and there seems to be a sort of threshold point beyond which it is possible to “forget” perceptually that the projection one is watching is actually a film. The hue and value of particular colors may have been factors in determining that minimum duration for seeing the projection as static, though this was difficult to tell. The removal of the swatches seemed also to be a metaphor for cutting, and on another level, for the passage of individual frames, since in this film the distinction among most of the frames is a distinction of color. Similarly I think there may be a metaphor for the film-watching process intended in Serra’s film of his hand trying to catch pieces of lead dropped into the frame.

This was the second time I’d seen some of Keith Sonnier’s films and I still can’t see the point of them. He continues to film screened or projected video images, but he has not yet made it clear why. It does give the films a different kind of sensuousness than soft focus or tricky lab techniques, but he doesn’t seem to be using what might be an interesting intersection of media. The filmed video image does affirm the curious ontological status of the projection though. When the video screen is filmed, the image is being constituted from behind the screen by the scanning signal; when the film image is projected on the wall, it is formed from the opposite direction, so to speak. The result is a sense that the projection is located at the wall’s (or screen’s) surface by a sort of pressure from both “sides” of the image.

Bruce Nauman produced several rather puzzling films which simply showed him from the waist up, naked, applying different color pigments to his body. All the while he wears a leporine look, watching the process in a mirror off camera. If the pigments had been less transparent, I would have taken the films to be about affirming the nature of his projected image as colored light, but the colors were rather transparent and just sort of tinted his skin, leaving me, for one, very unsure of what he was about.

Kenneth Baker