New York

Jackie Winsor

Every piece in Jackie Winsor’s show makes sense as an attempt to concentrate attention on the sculptural in a way that will not distract from the work’s identity as a repository for—and a consequence of—a process of physical modification of a particular sort. The work in this show spans three years (1970–73) and, seeing it all together, one realizes that Winsor’s is an imagination responsive to Minimalism and its aftermath, but resistant to its physical means, especially metal, and to any concentration on the actual situation of the piece.

I think it’s primarily a need to deal with sculpture as an object that is independent of place that obliges Winsor to play down the Minimalist preoccupation with leaning, and to take up instead the problem of joining. Winsor can be contrasted with Richard Nonas—to whom I shall come in a moment—in one crucial respect that helps to describe the achievement of both artists. This is their divergent uses of pressure as a structural feature. In Nonas’ work pressure is a function of the weight of flat metal plates or wooden sheets, of resting. In Winsor’s pressure takes the form of lamination, tight knots, and the exhaustive wrapping of a form with rope or twine. Winsor’s art is not situational as is Nonas’, and, in the case of each artist, an attitude to situationalism positive in Nonas’ case, negative in Winsor’s—is implicit in the internal structuring of the work. In both, sculpture is taken to be fundamentally involved with an experience of pressure generated by materials.

A morphology of sculpture would, perhaps, propose a dialectic of materiality and process that synthetically communicated intent, i.e., the object’s intent to be taken for a piece of sculpture. In Winsor’s work, an attitude to process is sought that can appear to be as “mindless” as materials themselves. At the same time, though, the “mindlessness” of the process involved is by its nature obsessive. This isn’t self-contradictory, it involves suppressing intuited response—at least temporarily—to the extent that it involves resisting the urge to improve materials, which is, in effect, the urge to eliminate their material emphasis by transforming them into what Chuck Close calls “art marks.”

In laminated plywood, in which seven sheets of plywood are laminated together, Winsor goes beyond the act of joining as it occurs elsewhere in her work. She presents an act of construction (lamination) which contains and generates the conditions of its own deconstruction. The gouging out follows the shape of the piece, and also the angle of the chisel, which is recorded in the sloping sides of the gouged out interior.

I have some difficulty with those pieces of Winsor’s that record decisions of a more conventional kind. Some of the pieces that use rope—the one that Winsor made immediately before laminated plywood, for example, which consists of four logs, two short and two long, tied together to make a rectangle that’s displayed vertically against the wall—were tied and untied several times until they “looked right.” This seems to undermine the whole enterprise, as it does when it occurs in the work of Gary Kuehn, to whom Winsor might be compared. Kuehn made some pieces in which a poured quantity of plaster is contrasted with an amount of equivalent volume cast into a block, but he always stopped the flow of the pour at the point when he thought it had reached a level of “visual adequacy” beyond which he didn’t want it to go.

Perhaps Winsor’s art is intended to be less about the inevitable consequences of a process derived from a given physical context than it’s about the manipulation of materials in terms which they set themselves, but to an end that is finally determined by intuited judgment. If this is so, then the highly personal aspect of Winsor’s art is its least interesting feature. laminated plywood suggests Judd, and contrasts with Judd by being almost totally accessible where that work of his that has a similar format is not, by being malleable where his is hard—by being small and made of wood instead of large and made of metal. It’s not all that useful a comparison, perhaps, but still it’s more to the point than the contrast between Judd’s “impersonality” and Winsor’s “personal” touch. Art is always finally “impersonal” it seems to me. Forster is said to have claimed that prose aspired to the condition of anonymity. Daniel Buren recently reminded us that anonymity has a signature attached to it if it happens in a gallery. All this suggests that the “impersonal/ personal” dichotomy is not a very revealing one. The main interest in Winsor’s show is that it sets out a possible set of terms through which a “unitary” sculpture—sculpture that’s fixed within itself in a way that makes it independent of place— might proceed at a time when the initiative is (still) firmly held by sculpture that engages in a modification of real space undertaken by the systematic manipulation of material significances.

Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe