New York

Julias Tobias

55 Mercer Gallery

When constructing an installation piece, the floor, walls and ceiling have to be dealt with whether by being outrightly ignored, played with or actively utilized to energize the piece. Julias Tobias’ involvement is with self-possession of the inner sanctum of both the exhibit space and the people within it. His latest work, titled Half and Half, consists of four 6-inch-deep concrete slabs, each 36 inches high and 44 feet long, forming three austere 32-inch corridors originating from and returning to the back wall of the gallery. The runners parallel the side walls and fill up exactly half of the space longitudinally.

Two of Tobias’ past works keenly resemble this present work in terms of composition, alignment and material: Alice’s Work is Worth It, 1974, five rows of concrete curb-sized beams confronting the viewer by blocking the entryway of the gallery, and Runners, (1976), two 36-inch-high parallel concrete walls 21/2 feet apart, cutting through the center of the space.

Half and Half, as one could have guessed, is fraught with halved relationships: half of the room is “full”; half is “empty.” Half of the “full” sector is “empty,” i.e. constituted by negative space; half of it is “full.” When standing waist-deep in the channel, half our body is visible; half is hidden. (The 36-inch runner height corresponds to the half-mark, the mid-point of the artist, namely his navel.) When viewed head on, toward the back wall, the piece has the rhythm of Classical architecture and the airs of an academic exercise: seen lengthwise, the work has the blank stare of the arch-modern. The gallery space itself is half private, half public. The conflictual nature in the coexistence of opposites carries over into a halved, a split, an ambivalent initial reaction when meeting these slabs and corridors: to enter or not to enter? To do so would still cause equivocation because the corridors which channel ultimately lead nowhere. We have not been misdirected; these massive concrete arms have beckoned and propelled us to confront a dead-end. The colonnaded structure of the Parthenon invited entry through its columnar intervals, yet served the decided function of concealing the location of the entrance. The straight tracks formed by Tobias’ concrete slabs, like these apertures, are means of baffling rather than leading.

The theme of halves, the examination of those ambiguities inherent in moities, has been well dealt with here. I feel, however, that the piece, for all its environmental involvement, has not completely resolved its relationship to the interior members of the exhibition space. The three channels are each 32 inches wide while the distance between the last concrete slab and the gallery wall is a measure of 10 inches. A puissant statement is made in the presence of and interval between four cumbrous concrete hedges. The regularity and strength of that beat cannot help but undergo a ripple effect when, in scanning from left to right, from the final slab to the wall, there is a nebulous but extant 10-inch channel way which functions neither as a passageway nor as a frame. The bottoms of the concrete runners, carefully cemented up from their base, lose some impact by appearing to meld with the floor rather than having forcefully sprung off it or from out of it.

Despite these weaknesses in confronting the gallery architecture, Tobias’ Half and Half confronts the human architecture with Doric sobriety, summoning us like sheep into its ambulatories.

Judith Lopes Cardozo