New York

Richard Nonas

Rented Space

There is some way in which the effort to reduce and control the elements in an artwork becomes an effort to control the spectator’s reaction to it. This effort, particularly in sculpture, can in turn become an attempt to seize and marshal the spectator’s sensibilities. Cowboy Minimalist Richard Nonas rented the O.K. Harris space before that gallery moved in, and installed his piece Boundary Man. He laid 11 strips of rectangular steel end to end in two lines that span two rooms diagonally. Walking around a work, apprehending its position in space and realizing yourself in relation to it, is a basic way of dealing with sculpture. But Boundary Man deals with you. Walking around it becomes walking along it, following it like a fence, like a line, to where it wants you to go. Entering the gallery, one feels rounded up, shunted from the first room to the second, along the right angle formed by the two lines of steel.

Boundary Man references mapping and surveying, which is itself a kind of walking around. This is more apparent in a related piece Nonas built at Artpark in upstate New York, Boundary River, Boundary Man. It is also more necessary as a means of rigorously relating a serial work to a site which overlooks a deep swift river.

Boundary Man tracks a straight line from door to door through the first roomso that there is a sense in which it has both indicated and usurped a path. But it is not the most efficient path; unless you want to squeeze along the wall, you must step over the piece to pass to the next room. How can a strip of metal only a few inches high perform its corralling function so insistently? It is certainly easy to step over it. Still, you will either be on one side of the line or the other.

Nonas recognizes the corralling function his piece performs by including a documentary addendum. At a tiny desk in the corner, a gallery attendant sells a tiny book entitled Sonora Cows. It is a flip book with 28 pages of variations on the handwritten sentence, “Those cows there are incredible,” and each sentence is enclosed within a drawn rectangle. The last two pages pose and answer the question. “What do you do for a living?”—“make sculpture.”

Alan Moore