New York

Roberta Allen and Roman Opalka

John Weber Gallery

Roberta Allen showed work of two sorts. Strips of canvas arranged on rollers, in groups, partially rolled and partially unrolled and labeled according to the length exposed. And groups of vertical lines on gridded paper—one line to a square—labeled as arrows without heads denoted as pointing up in some pictures and down in others. The theme of partial concealment also enters into some of these drawings. Allen is impressive because of the variety she gets out of this simple idea, and this variety—the large number of different kinds of work she’s able to make with it—indicates the depth of its importance. Allen hints—with, I think, some humor—at one affinity that art has with language in general: in both cases flexibility derives from a fundamentally arbitrary allusiveness.

Roman Opalka showed several of the paintings he makes, accompanied by his muffled voice on a speaker system, counting. Since 1965 he’s been painting, in white paint on a gray ground, the progression from one to infinity. At the moment, he’s in the 800,000s. One brushload of paint seems to do for four numbers, each painting takes the same amount of time as the last. The gray paint becomes 1% lighter—I couldn’t visually discern this—from canvas to canvas, so eventually Opalka will be painting in white on white. Opalka’s equation of labor and real time with an institutional terminology—paint, canvas, the gallery, and the implications of using numerical progression as any kind of readymade—seems totally about the art object as a commodity that represents production values, and suggests an identification of autobiography with the conventional vocabulary of the art institution that is, at this point, banal. Another hymn to privatism in the name of impersonality.

––Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe