New York

Eva Sonneman, Paul Mogenson and Lucio Pozzi

Bykert Gallery downtown

The kind of “first, second” sequence that Douglas Huebler uses in Duration Piece #7 is basic to Eva Sonneman’s work, which consists of pairs of photographs. These are taken in the same place—although not from the same position in that place—and then printed simultaneously. From one frame to the next an enormous variety of changes occur, in the action caught by the camera, in its field of vision, and also as in Family Portrait, Chicago, 1969 in the physical quality (the focus and light) of the photography itself. Sonneman’s way of working is highly intuitive, there is no set time between shots, and each shot is an intrinsically adequate entity, an act of acute observation. For Sonneman, intuition seems to require the provision of a compensatory response between the second shot and the first. In Family Portrait, Chicago a figure leaves the frame between the first and the second shot and, as if in response, part of a tree appears. This allows Sonneman to maintain the compositional emphasis posited in the first print while relocating the third unit—the other two being the central figures—from the background to the front of the picture, and from the beach to the sky.

The imposition of simultaneity that’s engendered by printing the photographs together might, I think, be understood to mean that the two prints which make up each work relate to the whole of which they are parts in a way that’s like the relationship of the events depicted to the place in which they occur. In this, Sonneman seems to have some affinities with another aspect of Huebler’s work, that which has to do with making the form of documentation respond to the character of what is documented, and with the more general idea—by Barthes out of Saussure—that metonymic sequence requires the condition of simultaneity for its complete appreciation. What is involved in this is a theory of narrative, of the mutual accessibility of conditions—“inside/outside,” “beginning/end”—that otherwise cancel one another out. At the moment this—perhaps essentially literary—notion seems to provide the motivation for an incredibly wide spectrum of artistic endeavor—in the work, for example, of artists as different as Richard Nonas and Daniel Buren, and of writers as divergent as Rudolph Wurlitzer and Adrienne Rich — and this contributes to the interest provoked by Sonneman’s work. Which is not to say that her photographs can’t stand on their own. On the contrary, it is to say that their strength is such that they can stand comparison with the most ambitious art of the time.

Of the two artists showing with Sonneman, Paul Mogenson and Lucio Pozzi, I find Pozzi the more interesting. Mogenson’s are one-color paintings, horizontally striated and made up of separate units. Drawing is thus identified with physical division, while each unit relates to the others within its striation through an arithmetical progression of which it is itself a part. That Mogenson is concerned with a pictorial order that’s physically accumulative more than it’s about the subdivision of a rectangle is attested to by the irregularity of format that is caused by the mutual independence of the horizontal progressions which make up the work.

Mogenson’s work should, I think, be more exciting than it is. His concern with line as a physical division—as opposed to an exclusively “optical” convention—relates him to the recent painting of Jake Berthot as well as to that of Howard Buchwald (which is discussed below), as does the relatively small size of his work. Mogenson’s use of only one color, in that it signifies the exclusion of pictorial space, also suggests comparison with the painting of Robert Morris—made in the early ’60s —that was recently exhibited at the Castelli Gallery. The trouble is that Mogenson appears to do nothing that goes beyond—qualifies or transforms—the work which his brings to mind. But perhaps there’s something there I’m not able to see. Given the aura of authoritativeness which surrounds his work, that seems quite likely.

Lucio Pozzi’s piece, Four and Eight, 1973, takes up a space 42 feet long and—not counting the eight-inch separation of the panels from the floor—eight feet high. This is something of a new departure for Pozzi, whose work has previously tended to be smaller. Four and Eight is made up of four eight-feet-square stretched canvases, between each of which there’s a gap of 24 inches with, at either end of the group, a 12-inch gap before the wall meets a corner.

Pozzi’s work is about seemingly minute differences. Each of the paintings that comprise this group has eight coats of paint, put on with a brush and then washed off—more and more selectively as the work proceeds. Basically, all the coats of paint come out of the same bucket, but the color is changed—added to—during the passage from the first to the last coat. As Pozzi himself says—in Data, summer, 1973—“The color red is like a constant around which I work with bluer or yellower or whiter reds.” In Four and Eight Pozzi put a short length of masking tape on each canvas after the third coat of paint had dried, within the square but close to the edge, which the tape parallels. These were not removed until after the last coat of paint, with the result that they make part of the surface available in an earlier state. (In this they are reminiscent of the bottom edge of Marden’s Olive Grove paintings, where there’s a similar exposure of an earlier stage in the painting’s evolution.) Because they draw attention to themselves as a part of the painting that’s lighter and less saturated than the rest of the surface, these taped areas serve as directional markers within and across the canvas and, by extension, across and through the space occupied by the four panels as a group.

Pozzi, in choosing to make his paintings part of a physical situation in the way that he has, manages to address the most crucial of the possible issues connected with thinking of paintings as objects. Painting, for Pozzi, seems to be the production of objects of a certain sort—as opposed to, for example, “images” or “tensions” of a certain sort. There is as much visual incident on the sides of these canvases as on the front, and it’s this as much as anything that ensures their continuity with the wall—and, as a consequence of that, with the space of the viewer. As he makes the space of his painting continuous with real space Pozzi draws one’s attention to another feature of what is an essentially literalist argument. That in becoming objects in the world paintings become more rather than less discrete and unique. Seen in terms of color as an exclusively “optical” signifier the differences between these canvases are (to let a single pun slip through the net) minimal. In material emphasis and distribution, however, they differ a great deal, and because of this it’s in material terms too that one comes to see the pictorial cohesion of the four together. Four and Eight forces mobility on the viewer; one must move back to see the work as a whole, and get very close up to observe the differences between each canvas. In this, the work is a paradigm for any literalist enterprise: the liberation of the viewer from the fixed position required by the pictorialism of the Renaissance, the liberation of painting from an “ideal” space separate from that of the physical world.

Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe