New York

Cecile Abish, James Reineking, and Stuart Shedletsky

Bykert Gallery downtown

Painting, photography, and sculpture seem—at the moment—to be mutually informative in a special way, Painting and sculpture continue to be immersed in that concern with material documentation stimulating of the most advanced work in these disciplines for the past decade. Such concerns address themselves to a spatial and temporal distortion that is physically engendered, rather than being a function of a conceptually abstract presentation of structure. Photography is, after all, a feature of industrialism that has altered the ordinary associations of “documentation” itself, in its provision of an automatic—mechanical—mediation of material appearance. 

In a group exhibit that she shared with four others—three painters and a sculptor—Cecile Abish showed a work comprised of ten photographs, of which nine were taken from about the same position and one was not. The photographs form a sequence: first there’s a photograph of a—horizontal—figurelike shape described by a row of matches buried up to their heads in some snow, and unlit; then there are six pictures of the matches burning, so that the figure’s outline becomes the perimeter of a hole burnt in the snow; then there are two photographs of the burnt out hole; then, taken from a position clearly different from that of the camera in the others—though not drastically different from them in its general directional orientation to the hole—there’s a picture of the hole with a kitten crouching nearby. 

The passage from a schematized shape—the configuration in its original form—to a void, to the void’s juxtaposition with a living organism, suggests an allegorical interpretation which strikes me as a blind alley. Such a connotation seems instructive only insofar as it indicates the deceptively familiar connection between allegory and tautology. But the “story-line” in Abish’s piece need not be regarded as much more than an excuse for investigating a larger concern, an organization of sequence that’s about temporal distortion as the result of changes of incident. 

Between each of the first nine pictures there’s a fluid, or regular, periodicity between each photograph, which is imposed by a constant camera position and is further suggested by the interval that seems to be apparent between one photograph of the matches burning and the next. As one becomes aware of this regulation of the sequence, one also becomes aware of its perceptual accompaniment—the feeling that activity and complexity—or their absence—alter the degree and intensity of the attention that one gives to the picture. Procedural consistency, then, is suggested so as to be undermined by a subjective, but undeniable, distension of the sequence which bends the temporal neutrality of the documentary process to the specific requirements of the depicted event. 

Abish’s use of a distinctly different camera angle in the final photograph of the sequence suggests that, in order to focus on the expansion and contraction of time as the result of an intensification and relaxation of attention, it’s necessary to close the sequence within the context of the piece. While her work reassures us that the act of taking photographs—of documentation—is independent of the events it depicts, she is at the same time concerned to further qualify this proposition in the interests of a more explicit reflexiveness between the photography and the photographed. The connection between signifier and signified, Abish seems to suggest, has to be an arbitrary one, but it also has to be a connection that’s consciously elaborated. 

In the first nine pictures variation is a consequence of—is in tension with—the consistency of the camera angle. The different position of the camera in the last shot, in that it occurs both at the end of the sequence and—conceivably—in response to the kitten’s arrival on the scene, indicates that the camera might be more organizationally involved with the scene it depicts than it has seemed to be up until that final shot. The last photograph implies that one sequence has ended with the arrival of the cat, which initiates a reorientation of the camera that erodes the impression of neutrality it gives in the first nine. As the final photograph closes the sequence, the camera’s change of position becomes analogized with the transition from abstract schema—the figure drawn out in the first picture—to literal void, that it depicts, and with the supercession of that sequence. In this way two sets of antinomies—one contained in the event depicted and one a feature of the documentation—are identified with one another, “abstract: literal” is paired with “consistency: disruption.” That pairing—which Abish communicates with singular clarity when she puts the exception to one rule at the beginning of the sequence, and the exception to the other at the end—connects Abish to other ambitious art, which demonstrates a willingness to allow for logical inevitability’s distortion—transformation—through confrontation with events in the physical world. 

James Reineking suggests how changes in the object of perception affect the passage of time, and how this idea may be consciously—artistically—articulated. As the permutation from one of Abish’s pictures to the next is made significant by simultaneous presentation, so the modular similarity between each of the three units that make up Reineking’s Circular Rune, 1974, suggests variation—change, and therefore temporality—in a system that offers a variously accessible sequentiality.

In Reineking’s case, simultaneity is one consequence of a cyclical order. In these terms, what one has in Circular Rune are six basic conjugations of modular variation. Each conjugation would consist of the order in which one encountered the three variations. One can start with any of the modular units and follow the perimeter either clockwise or counterclockwise—therefore, six conjugations—and on each occasion the order will be different. 

A conventional equivalence—which reinforces the cyclical emphasis—between inside and outside is provided by the sculpture’s ground plan. Circular Rune is based on a circle asymmetrically superimposed on a triangle. Two sides of the triangle are partially contained—cropped—by the circle, while the other side is tangential to it. This asymmetry is echoed in the vertical order of the three components of the work. Of these, two have verticals—the cross section of each module is an L shape—that stress horizontality. Their vertical sections—which are equal in height—are longer than they’re tall, and contrast with the vertical of the third module, which is twice as high. This has a concave arc cut out of it, in response to the concave arc which in the horizontal dimension of another of the modules—marks the side of the triangle that’s outside the circle. The suggested three-dimensional extrapolation of the circle—the concave arc in a vertical plane—serves, then, to communicate the opposition between an interior and exterior which, together with an attitude to both which is extremely provisional in that neither is wholly contained by the work, is provided by the ground plan.

 Circular Rune confirms and continues this involvement with an equilibrium that is not static in its use of materiality. All the horizontals are on the floor, so there’s no question of the work’s denying its own weight, but the orientation toward an awareness of gravitational thrust that’s provided by the verticals permits Reineking to reassert the physical implications of the work in the course of integrating its vertical projections into the schematic order of the ground plan. As he does this, he establishes the floor as the context for the convergence of drawing and object—abstract schema and literal realization—and reasserts the floor’s function as that which equalizes the relative position of the sculpture and its audience. This, an equilibrium fundamental to the broader premises advanced by the piece, is confirmed by Reineking’s use of the circle and pyramid format to provide as many spaces through which to “enter” the piece as there are modules. All of which suggests that work which explicates sequentiality by putting it in tension with its opposite—simultaneity—is engaged in an endeavor analogous to that of sculpture which seeks to inhabit real space. 

The concern with materiality which unites Joan Snyder’s painting with Brice Marden’s is careful in its manipulation of the poles “individual decision: resultant object,” to contain personal gesture in a way that will allow for its acknowledgment but not its domination. Stuart Shedletsky fits into this continuum with paintings that imply an autobiographical intent—communicated by the use of dates as titles—put in tension with an institutional, morphologically preoccupied vocabulary. In this, Shedletsky’s work seems linked to that interest in the personal and idiosyncratic which Joel Shapiro has developed into a corollary of the conventional impersonality of ’60s sculpture—a development that’s clarified and relocated the parameters of the sculptural enterprise in general. 

Shedletsky’s paintings also remind me of Howard Buchwald’s recent work, which they resemble in their size—10–25–73 measures 12'' x 18''—and, to an extent, their coloration. 10–25–73 presents, in its use of striation, a schematic equivalent for the physical accumulation of paint on the surface. Thickly painted, the separateness of each striation serves to provide a context in which overall emphasis is maintained, and the possibility of focusing on a particular visual incident is expunged. Unlike Buchwald in this respect, Shedletsky isn’t interested in suggesting ways of moving around inside a pictorial space made newly inhabitable by the elimination of a no longer credible illusionism. Rather, he seems at this point to be concerned only with converting the allover attitude to surface formerly associated with larger paintings to an intimist scale. This doesn’t seem all that provoking or difficult to do, but Shedletsky is clearly on his way to something that might be interesting.

Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe