New York

Newton Harrison

Ronald Feldman Gallery

In the handouts accompanying his show, Newton Harrison proclaims that he is after “an art, social in operation, based on tangible harvests, that works efficiently both as system and as metaphor.” The harvest he speaks of is seafood, cultured at his as yet unconstructed estuarial marine plantation in Southern California. I admire farmer Harrison’s politics. He is committed to collectivity, and he has what look like sound proposals to ameliorate the world’s food crisis. Nevertheless I am constrained to deal with the works in his show, and they reveal a commitment to a pictorial format that is not adequate to unload his content.

Harrison’s attempt to fuse map as map and map as metaphor is problematic. It works in his geo-icons, global projections in which the world is wrapped not around the poles but around particular cities. But in the three panels of The Fourth Lagoon: Mixing, Mapping and Territory, the metaphor is extended only as far as it takes to make the works congruent with painting. The photographic enlargements of maps on canvas are lushly patinaed like ancient maps. It would seem that Harrison is alluding to the fluidity of identities in an earlier age when cartographers were artists as well as scientists. Clearly Harrison feels that it is urgent to reassert this communion of the disciplines, and offers himself as an example.

Harrison speaks of developing “a specialized form of pidgin, an amalgam of science and art talk,” but the language on his works reads like nothing so much as the particular jargon used in appeals to government agencies that dispense monies by application—I mean grant talk. Christo has said, “If I cannot make art, I’d rather go for a walk than write about it.” That’s hyperbole, sure, but Harrison, who would ally himself with the heroes of sculptural praxis such as Christo and Smithson (who wrote metaphorically), marks himself instead as heir to those writers skilled in forms of bureaucratic address who swarmed the imperial Chinese courts.

Alan Moore