New York

“A Response To The Environment”

Rutgers University Art Gallery

It’s not that I want to arbitrarily label and categorize artists. In a sense, that’s my major objection to the pretense of the large group show “A Response to the Environment.” That it picks up on surface similarities among artists, tying diverse works together around a tenuous connection. That the theme becomes just an excuse for a show. And that instead of attempting to define or reveal a constant, the exhibit simply grasps a broad, vague term and amalgamates a hodge-podge of works which make some nodding reference to the chosen designation. A response to the environment. What does that mean? The organizers of the show have drawn the line at the natural, excluding completely reactions to urban life. A response to the natural environment then. Does response include any acknowledgment of nature? The whole landscape tradition perhaps? Or do the organizers have a more specific point of view?

But first things first. And the first thing one notices about the Rutgers show is that it is all indoors. Even Tom Benner’s fiberglass “boulders” (photographed for the catalogue on a grassy lawn) are huddled out of place inside, under a stairwell. Now Rutgers isn’t exactly an urban campus; there is plenty of free, even grassy, space outside. And even given some financial restrictions, it seems incredible that there isn’t even one piece that deals with the outdoors that is there.

To continue with the work that is shown. The catalogue claims that it provides a cross section of environment-related art “which allows a sustained, interested examination of its protean theme.” But I wonder whether the theme is even there or whether it is so loosely defined that it disappears altogether. Is Sam Richardson’s polyurethane foam and plastic sculptured abstract “landscape” a response to the environment or is it more about the look of an art object? Does a Water Painting by Joseph Raffael really share an approach to nature with a Non-site by Robert Smithson or Spiral Jetty? If one includes a bound log piece by Jackie Winsor, could one also exhibit a nail piece or a brick dome, or must the materials be more natural? And why not show one of Robert Grosvenor’s beams as a point of comparison? I could list numerous artists omitted—Michael Heizer, Walter de Maria, Christo, for example. But my complaint is more that there is no evident reason for the selection of artists exhibited. And that one comes out of the show knowing no more about an approach of art to the environment than the instance of specific pieces.

Susan Heinemann