New York

Michelle Stuart

Max Hutchinson Gallery

Is it that as the end of the art season approaches, I become more and more jaded? Art and more art. And I find myself tiredly, haphazardly niching works into categories. Excitement lost. This is not so much a criticism of the particular artists I happen to be reviewing, but more a feeling growing about the art scene in general. Is there nothing which startles, disorients, blocks the accustomed analysis, requesting another language, a different approach? Is it all the same? A rehashing of established art “problems”? But perhaps there are clues, here and there. Times when the usual vocabulary no longer suffices and one finds oneself unable to define precisely, wrapping the work into a package to post through art discourse.

An instance, just an instance, in Michelle Stuart’s new drawings. Sure, I could write about the physical presence of her large works. The thickness of the rag paper backed with muslin which enhances their objectlike, iconic status as they hang from the wall, pinned at the top, curling at the bottom or rolling their scroll onto the floor. Or I could elaborate on how the process of making ties conceptually and visually to the result. The pounding with rocks of earth and graphite into the paper articulating a surface which becomes a map of its activity. A visually rocklike texture created as the stone tools abrade the paper, embedding the earth in puckered depressions or exposing, eroded, the silvery base of an overall blackened graphite suspension. Wrinkles, furrowed into the paper, reflecting the light in different densities, scanning, tracing the path of the rock as it moves across and defines the terrain. The image a map of the making of a map. But all this seems a conventionalized description. And what is missing is—how can I say it?—a hint of wonder transferred from nature into Stuart’s drawings.

Maybe, by turning to the Site Drawings included in the show, which are quite different, what I mean will become clearer. In some way, these serve as notes for viewing the larger drawings. Like captioned explanations, didactic in themselves, and yet useful as clues. For here a small rock-made drawing is located on a gridded sheet of paper rubbed with pencil, presumably over the site. At another point, a hand-drawn road map becomes the key, verbally designating the site in terms of adjacent towns and named landmarks. While elsewhere an inserted photograph denotes the close-up appearance of the locale. Different graphic means recording the presence of place. And perhaps there is a tangential reference to Robert Smithson’s Nonsites in this transposition of one surface onto another, in this transference of data from outside on the ground to inside on the paper. A kind of finding, mapping one in the other.

To return to the larger drawings. In these, the intertwining of the site and image is not spelled out and yet it is there. The drawings are not so much translations or even tracings of a landscape. Instead they seem more a refinding of the site on paper. Using the materials of place—the rocks, earth, even the more art-laden graphite (a mineral equivalent)—as well as the processes of its formation—deposited, ground into, worn away—to relocate its configuration on paper. So that seeing the drawings approaches an experiencing as well as a reexperiencing of the discovery on site of the map of the land.

Susan Heinemann