New York

Ad Dekkers

Rosa Esman Gallery

Ad Dekkers’ work—in common with Buchwald’s and Stella’s—sets out to make pictorial space literal. And that’s as far as any similarity between his work and that of the other two goes. Dekkers is Dutch, and, according to the catalogue of his show, has from the first (1960) endeavored to literalize the space of painting as that is represented—exclusively—by the work of Mondrian. Furthermore, Dekkers is interested in Mondrian sans Mondrian’s color.

The catalogue relates Dekkers’ work—which is either white or, in the case of the drawings, translucent—to a painting Mondrian made in 1918, Losangique with Grey Lines. Dekkers takes from Mondrian the grid’s capacity to vibrate. He is concerned to contrast that capacity with line that’s present as a physical signifier, either line that’s engraved—Relief with 18 Sawn Grooves, 1965—or line that’s drawn on both sides of a sheet of paper. The drawings are, for me, the most interesting of Dekkers’ work. In them he suspends the paper between two penciled grids made up of line whose thickness doesn’t seem arbitrary, but may instead be read as the result of strictures set up by the overall format of the piece, which is a way of saying that it’s in the drawings that Dekkers seems closest to Mondrian. The paper causes the lines on its back to read as grayer than those on the front, and this brings about a convergence of the physical and the “optical” which is extremely satisfying.

For the rest, Dekkers’ work suffers from the tendency of this kind of art to look like a model of something rather than a thing in itself, and he has, in fact, spent a lot of time collaborating with architects. In his search for a “nonhierarchical grid”—something one might have thought was always readily available—Dekkers seems to have made some pieces that would relate him, if he can be related to any American artist of major importance, to Sol LeWitt’s work of the late ’60s. But where LeWitt’s work involved, at least to some degree, questioning the conventional—presumptive—malleability of architectural space (in order, perhaps, to neutralize it more explicitly), Dekkers’ does not. Instead, Dekkers persists in proceeding as if the continuity between architectural and pictorial space that was an assumption of the Renaissance had never been called into question, as if no serious dislocation between the two had ever been proposed. That, I think, is why his work is finally unable to address itself to issues that are of the present rather than the—art-historical—past.

The idea to which I’ve just referred, of a conventional continuum between the abstract space of painting and the physical space of architecture, is articulated briefly by Grégoire Müller in his book The New Avant-Garde (New York, 1972). There it is described as a concept that traditionally displaces sculpture, and Müller hints that it is this traditional “homelessness” of sculpture which accounts for its present position as the main. stimulus within the visual arts.

Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe