New York

Richard Calabro

Hutchinson Gallery

An adequate description (dodging questions of determining adequacy) of Richard Calabro’s work at Hutchinson is not impossible but necessarily of enormous length and probably not useful. The exhibition is essentially in two parts: what is in the front room of the gallery and what is in the back room. The work in each room could be described as an aggregation of lesser aggregates, with sticks, glass, neon light, rope, wire, tungsten light, cloth, video, and furniture parts being the basic constituents of the lesser aggregates. The discrete aggregates in the front room seem as constituents of a larger aggregate only after experiencing the back room where boundaries of lesser aggregates are ambiguous or undefined. The straight neon lines seem to be constituents of either of two aggregates or form an aggregate in themselves, while other elements such as cast light and tight wires clearly span and are constituents of two or more aggregates. Eventually, it must be concluded that it makes no sense to speak of lesser aggregates in the back room, and in this sense, upon leaving the gallery the work in the front room is not so much reexperienced as rethought.

To speak of Calabro’s work in terms of aggregates is to speak of the general structure but not of what is structured. What gets structured in this case are the relations between kinds of physical materials and as such, the relations are not hierarchal. The relations present phenomenological problems of making sense of the confused perception of relationships and the confused relation of perceiver to what is perceived, and in this case the work derives in intention and methodology from Keith Sonnier and Rafael Ferrer. Calabro has expressed an interest in mysticism, biography, and Merleau-Ponty, and common to each is the notion that perceptual experience is the basis for all knowledge. The assumption in mysticism is that what is outside perceptual experience is not knowable, while Merleau-Ponty seems to dodge the question altogether, asserting the importance of perception to all forms of knowledge but leaving for someone else the Platonic problem of knowledge not founded in experience. The relevance of phenomenology to the work is apparent as soon as we try to make sense out of the greater or lesser aggregates. If perception is contingent on the perception of relationships, then whatever is perceived is perceived in relation to something else. It is in this sense that all the constituents within or without an aggregate necessarily relate to each other in a way that might be called a “necessary relation.” This necessary relation, that any two entities within a given situation relate to one another, was the crux of Minimalist theory. Calabro goes further and adds several levels of complexity to necessary relations. A more complex relation is that of a straight neon line suspended parallel to a large stick wrapped in cloth also suspended from the ceiling. The relation here is not simply parallelness, but of two kinds of materials functioning, in a certain sense, “in the same plane.” The most complex relations are those formed from combinations of materials with cultural and psychological connotations, such as glass panes propped at various angles within a bed-frame, opposing connotations of danger and comfort, which result in an aggregate to which we attach meaning. The question is not so much in determining a specific meaning as trying to figure out how meaning got there. Without knowing Calabro, the work cannot be dealt with in biographical terms except to assume that he attaches personal significance to certain materials in certain combinations. Within these phenomenological questions, the problem of the biographical relation of a physical material to the artist is relevant and puzzling. If mysticism is relevant, and the show did have an air of mysticism about it, especially in the humming of the video tape, it is not by solving any of the problems posed but by providing a way out of them. Mysticism is a dodge.

Bruce Boice