New York

Robin Van Arsdale

Hundred Acres Gallery

suppose it comes down to my preference for art that happens to be funny while doing something else. Like Synthetic Cubism. Sometimes the joke isn’t much of one, or it’s abstruse, but it’s effortless. Robin Van Arsdale’s series of waggish snipes at the formal conventions that govern art on the wall are witty in almost that way. He twists a few of the obvious issues of modern painting into quips by reiterating them in degenerate idioms.

He alludes to Kenneth Noland’s colored stripes and thin grids by hanging a small aluminum frame with glass and paper on the wall and drawing a grid through it with different colored crayons. The lines start from points several inches out from each side of the frame, proceed along the wall, over the frame, under the glass and along the paper, and then out the other side. In another work, Van Arsdale crayons horizontal lines on the wall, over a small white-painted frame, through the patch of wall it encloses, and out the other side. Van Arsdale also mocks Jules Olitski’s expanding fields of sprayed color by hanging a wooden frame on the wall and simply spraying a larger circle of yellow paint on the wall so that the color is within, on, and outside the frame.

Ha, ha, formal jest. But the question remains, under what terms are these works on the wall? How did they get there and how do they maintain themselves there? They exist as parody—a facile description of the issues Noland and Olitski address in their paintings might conjure up a mental image something like Van Arsdale’s works. He is mocking not the paintings of the modernists themselves, but the terms under which they are made; his work is rooted in an objectified misunderstanding—a joke. Tony Shafrazi’s defacement of Picasso’s Guernica is a similar objectified misunderstanding of the formal dictum that painters are free to make their marks on any surface—but it’s not a joke, it’s a crime.

Curiously, it is only when Van Arsdale addresses an issue in the terms that he has used to mock others that he succeeds in making strong and self-sustaining work. This effort is kicked off in his show with a work in which strips of masking tape proceed horizontally along the wall, over an aluminum frame, under the glass and along the wall. The few strips of tape on either side, then, secure the frame onto the wall. Many artists are now using tape as a fashionable form of figuration. In her January show at James Yu Gallery, for example, Li Lan showed paintings of bulletin boards. Since the paper she pictured on the boards wasblank, Li’s paintings became about depicting the different ways paper can be affixed to a surface. Van Arsdale’s works are not paintings, but as figuration his strips of tape reference his horizontal crayon marks. But crayoned lines can’t hold the frame on the wall, they can only mock it. The tape, on the other hand, both figures and functions.

In another work, Van Arsdale pounds a square field of two-inch nails into the wall, 12 high and 15 wide. A sheet of paper is centered in the field underneath the nails. This piece (and another in which a sheet of paper is smashed under a field of staples) is nearly agonistic about putting artwork on the wall. Since he has no answer for why artwork should be on the wall, Van Arsdale asserts the muscularity of the act. The blank sheet of paper has been riddled, and the paper itself is clearly irrelevant to the sheer effort expended to affix it to the wall.

Alan Moore