New York

Rachel Bas-Cohain

Rachel Bas-Cohain also moves from jokes about modernist composition into a hard tackle on the same problems. Bas-Cohain builds two models of the Cubist grid. One is small and made from refrigeration pipes, and the other is large, spanning the width of the gallery ceiling, and made from thin cold water pipes. Thepun (as Bas-Cohain unfortunately points out in an accompanying text) is about the grid as the compositional basis—the plumbing—of much modernist painting. The first grid she builds is covered with ice crystals, and the other with droplets of water that fall on people as they enter the gallery. The “figuration” in these works, then, is literally pulled out of the air. It is moisture in the atmosphere that condenses on the cold pipes. Is white a “pure” color? Here it is the smallest and coldest grid that is white.

Bas-Cohain extends the notion of circumstantial coloration in a series of drawings made by placing wicks in cups of tea and letting them dangle so that they stain sheets of thin paper. The tea is secreted along the line described by the wicks’ contact with the paper, and the artist doesn’t have to do a thing beyond setting it up. The drawings themselves are displayed with photographs of the containers of tea which originally held the sheets of paper vertical, so that the reason why these drawings are on the wall is explained. They had to be that way because otherwise the tea wouldn’t drip down on the paper.

Once that has been established, BasCohain is free to omit the photographic suggestion of a shelf upon which the containers of tea hold the paper up, and in several works (including the one reproduced on the announcement), the paper hangs down from where it is held in the crack between two sections of plasterboard. This is the finished product—a new kind of painting.

Okay. Why do I like Van Arsdale and not Bas-Cohain? They both work the same way. Bas-Cohain reiterates issues inherent in color-field painting, for example the problem of hand. The tea bleeds to stain the paper not from the artist’s own use of a crass brush, but because the wick naturally secretes the tint. It bothers me that Bas-Cohain feels that if she can succeed in couching painting in wholly circumstantial terms, she is then free to do the same things with it. It’s a replay at a slower speed, and not a confrontation with the “why” of the enterprise at hand.

Alan Moore