New York

“Grids”

Pace | 32 East 57th Street

Might as well say it right off, so there’s no question about it: a lot of the objects in “Grids” are very beautiful and totally satisfying as art. What I have to say in no way reflects upon the individual me is of any single piece. The problem for me is that the show seems to want to be taken as more than a collection of nice things. One really nice thing was Frank Stella’s metallic doughnut hexagon; I’m certainly glad I had the opportunity to see it, but what has it got to do with grids? And, ultimately, what hasn’t it got to do with them?

The catalogue for the show includes an essay by Rosalind Krauss, but no indication of who chose the works. Ms. Krauss refers to more things not in the show than in it. So who chose them? The show’s curator(s) has (have) been released from any direct or personal responsibility, so to speak, as to the relationship between individual objects, and their integrity as products of individual sensibilities. I write “curated” in response to the grand, anonymous way the show is staged, in its authoritative style and in the very range of expensive and carefully showcased esthetic items. The corporate anonymity does nothing more than reveal the kind of “history” show “Grids” aspires to be. With all due respect, Ms. Krauss sounds terribly ideological and narrow when she insists that the grid is totally modern. There are hardly any visual art traditions anywhere at any time that don’t employ grids—some more gridlike than a number of things in this exhibition. How about all the tile surfaces or brick structures in the world that are every bit as gridlike as Carl Andre’s sculpture, occurring as they do in most architecture? One can extrapolate from the delicately gorgeous Japanese-y screen-cum-windows of Frank Lloyd Wright to any other architectural ornament. Embellishment on a grid does not eradicate the basic grid structure. Every textile ever made begins with the grid of warp and weft. So what is a grid? Does it have to do with 20th century fine art in particular? Is it, for instance, inimical to realism since there is no representational art in the show? Are the metal bars in Manet’s Gare St. Lazare any less evidently a grid for also being a fence or barrier?

The standard answer to this is that the grid in modern abstraction is more explicit, the complete subject of the art. Aren’t we going to have to give up the idea that something is more consciously what it is because it’s more blatantly exhibiting it? And even Ms. Krauss admits that there is always more to a grid than its formal structure (spirit and mind, for instance). But contrary to Ms. Krauss, Cubism did not “discover” anything—the grid it supposedly discovered had been there all along as a ground for locating things on a surface; Cubism only recognized a new, reduced use for the grid. Could the Mondrian in “Grids” be thinkable or understandable without the knowledge that it draws inspiration from the verticals and horizontals of a tree? I doubt it.

Of course, I can’t blame the show for what it left out, but I can criticize the nonexistence of boundaries. It would be difficult to imagine a show of art that had nothing to do with grids, since it’s a frame or way of seeing which can be imposed on anything. However, the possibility that Cornell and Stella, Nevelson and Mondrian, or Agnes Martin and Lucas Samaras have something, anything, in common is going to take a lot more rigorous and convincing proof than the superficial correspondences they must endure in “Grids.”

Jeff Perrone