New York

Liliana Porter

Hundred Acres Gallery

As yet more evidence of artists’ increasing willingness to cross ideological lines within single shows, Liliana Porter’s wall drawings, photographs, and prints are as interesting for their category breaking as for their reticence. Porter’s work not only jumps the barrier normally taken for granted between figuration and abstraction, but she does it convincingly. It’s really a question of ideology. For if ideology in a broad sense is “the widest range of meanings present in a society,” on a narrower level it refers to the beliefs peculiar to one social group. Throughout the ’60s the dominant ideology of the group known as American artists was a narrow one. Figuration or abstraction, art or life were typical of the either/or imperatives of the day. Contrary to this my pluralist position is one which recognizes the strength of art with and without reference as well as the possibility of both positions coexisting peacefully. This is why I defend Porter.

The first work encountered in the gallery sets the dualist tone of the show. You’re led into the gallery downstairs, by a pencil line drawn directly on the wall, running for several feet, meeting, and then crossing an 8” x 10” photograph. The photograph shows a finger with a line running across it, and, in fact, matches the line on the wall. You have a real and a photographed line with the introduction of a hand. Porter doesn’t fudge on ideas. It’s clearly a hybrid between those old enemies anthropomorphic and nonanthropomorphic elements—the hand and the line. It looks like a mix between a simple LeWitt wall drawing and the conceptual documentation of a Huebler. Yet, unlike LeWitt who chooses essentially reference-free imagery, or Huebler who chooses reference-laden imagery, Porter—in line with artists like Baldessari—accepts both “art and culture.” Her drawn line picks up on a rich vein of art reference and her photographed hand on a rich vein of cultural reference. What’s interesting is although I can talk about the line and hand as separate, Porter by actually having the line drawn over the hand doesn’t allow ideational separations like this. She also continues a traditional obsession artists have had for using hands. Ignoring the Dürer humanist reportage aspect, Porter follows Johns’ intellectual use of the hands as a device. The hand as a referential device signals that man is about but not a particular man. If the face is more of a particular, the hand tends to be a universal.

Most of Porter’s work deals in different ways with the relation of hands to marks. In one of a series of six untitled photo-aquatints—which might be called “Adventures of a Small Square”—a square about 1” across is drawn first on its own, then in different positions on a hand. It’s drawn across one finger, two fingers, and parts of the hand. Sometimes the square is cradled protectively in the palm, other times it overlaps onto the surface around the hand. Another interesting and similar work—again untitled—is “hand triangle,” a wall drawing with photographs. A pencil triangle drawn directly on the wall, about six feet high, has a photograph pinned over each of its corners. Again the line looks as though it continues onto the photographs, but this time each of the drawn corners ends on the palm of a hand. Wobbling from corner to corner, the freehand line contrasts with the photographed line within its glossy surface and hard edges. Again you could say a lot about it. The idea of one system which is closed—the triangle—being interrupted by another system—the hands—is interesting but the situation turns in on itself because the interruptions are incorporated into the closed system by being drawn on. At what point do the hands become part of the system?

Although most of Porter’s work is of hands with both drawn and painted marks, she also humorously enters the world of direct psychological reference: the face. In one piece, I presume a self-portrait, a hand rests on the side of the face with the jaw line drawn across the fingers as though the hand were invisible.

And in one of the least abstract pieces, most referential to a world of associations, she shows a photograph of herself and a man with a single square actually drawn across the surface of the two faces temporarily joining them together. Drawn, I suppose, with grease pencil, half the square is on the man’s face, half on hers. If they stepped apart they’d have half a square each. It sounds outrageously trite. In fact it’s very effective. You’re caught between the simplicity of the idea with its “united we stand, divided we fall” implications and the actual photograph itself. In any case, nothing could be sadder than half a square. Also it’s just nice to trace the outline of one of the most purist formal devices—the square—as it runs its bumpy path over cheeks, foreheads, etc. Liliana Porter’s willingness to make art gestures like this alongside other more purist ventures is what’s significant to me.

James Collins