New York

Mel Kendrick

Artists Space Exhibitions

Thinking in itself is an essential aspect of Mel Kendrick’s sculpture. Seven implicit rectangles, each about 16 inches high, lean at even intervals along two of the gallery walls. Except for one which is a complete rectangle, each of the pieces consists of two four-sided masonite halves which have different edges sliced off at an angle. The boards are painted white, and each contains a blue gray paper quadrangle which touches all four sides. Because of the smallness and lowness relative to the gallery space and one’s body height, the work at first seems self-effacing. Yet as one continues to look at the work, it takes on stature as a proposition; the pieces act as indices of a theorem yet to be proved. 

Visually one is aware of a basic sameness which relates the separate parts. One senses that there is an underlying principle which organizes these elements as members of a set. Inevitably such a reading ties Kendrick to Dorothea Rockburne who, in fact, selected his work for the exhibition. However, Kendrick is not merely imitative; he seems to be searching for his own language. The work itself has a certain mystery to it. It asks one to inquire. What, one wonders, are the rules of construction? There seems to be a logic to the ordering, as if a given condition was transformed through standard operations. Yet I, for one, could not discern any rigid formula. 

Focusing on the gray areas, one finds it difficult to perceive them as whole shapes in themselves. Instead they read as sections of larger parallelograms, perhaps because generally two edges of the paper coincide with edges of the board, making the shapes appear cut off. Similarly one sees the boards as truncated rectangles rather than as independent shapes. One might cite various investigations of Gestalt experiences, but in Kendrick’s work the ordering of perceptual data parallels the set formation. If one took one segment by itself, one might be more conscious of the actual shape. Given the total context, though, one tends to organize the information in terms of relationships—the gray shapes as incomplete parallelograms, the boards as rectangles. 

Another aspect of Kendrick’s work is the two-/three-dimensional paradox. The narrow strip of floor separating the bottom of the pieces from the wall is painted white. Thus, from a distance the floor becomes an extension of the wall and the boards seem to stand upright, flat against the wall. At the same time, though, one sees the cast shadows, which define the space between the boards and the wall. This sculptural orientation of the work is further attested to by a feeling of gravity. A definite sense of weight is engendered by the pieces’ contact with the floor. This weight asserts the thereness of the elements, thereby reinforcing their provocativeness. 

Throughout the work there is a tension between knowing and perceiving, between is and seems to be. Although the work is not fully resolved—the whole somehow doesn’t gel—it does begin to test how one perceives and orders one’s experience and to question how one verifies that experience. 

Susan Heinemann