Los Angeles

Richard Jackson

Richard Jackson’s recent show comprised, besides the standard selection of project-proposal drawings featuring the standard scrawly elegance, one mammoth, room-filling work, a clever process/environmental gesture that managed to touch base simultaneously with painting, sculpture and architecture. There was a diamond-shaped (parallelogram) configuration of canvases stretched over plywood, about 32 by 19 feet, and a rectangular configuration, about 19 by 19 feet. The diamond rested face-up, ramplike, with one end at the bottom of a wall and the other at the top of the opposite wall (16 feet high) and its other two corners touching the walls on either side; it was supported underneath by a jerrybuilt array of wooden struts. The rectangle was face-down on top of the diamond, shoved up to the ceiling. Acrylic paint in off-primary colors had been gobbed onto the interfacing surfaces before the shove was performed (it took four strong men, reportedly), so the canvas that showed—the bottom half of the diamond, the upper corners of the rectangle (from below)—bore a kind of smeared-rainbow design. Spilled paint was all over the place.

Jackson’s new piece differed from most process/environmental projects, for me, in its generous complexity and almost poetic evocativeness, particularly of the painter’s studio. The work is “about” painting, after all, in an obvious way; and, responding to the giant scale, one could almost fancy oneself a mouse under a palette. In any case, there was a definite sense of displacement, imaginative as well as physical, and a quiet exhilaration in the experience. Moreover, the experience lingers, in my mind, at least, more vividly, and certainly more pleasantly, than that of the majority of such projects. Jackson, who has been doing similar work for a decade, commands a quality of big lyricism that is extremely satisfying.

In common with most project work, however, Jackson’s has an aura of strenuous canniness, of absorption in an art situation both physical and mental. that is rather claustrophobic. This is not the place to tax all of post-Minimalist project art in the person of one of its more engaging practitioners, but the increasing attenuation of the overall esthetic naturally affects one’s experience of work that depends on it. This is all the more troubling in the case of an artist like Jackson whose vitality owes much to an apparently uncritical, almost cozy belief in the integrity of the esthetic. (Ease of conviction may be a typically California trait, as hyper-worry is a typically New York one). Is he right, perhaps? Is the art hothouse that “projects” require still, and for the near future, habitable? Is one’s unease with the “projects” esthetic, the “projects” context, trivial? Or is it of the essence? Things to think about this year.

Peter Schjeldahl