New York

Postcard-size Art

P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center

“Postcard-Size Art,” which was organized by Gigi Franklin, is a well-traveled group show that is enormous in volume—it contains over 740 works, all of them minute. I recognized the names of fairly few artists, though there are occasional famous ones: Harry Callahan, who contributed the small 1947 portrait of his wife, Eleanor, that is on the cover of his Aperture collection, is probably the best known. Neither Sol LeWitt, Lucas Samaras nor Bill Zulpo-Dane submitted work, which is too bad, since these artists were among the first contemporary workers to produce a great deal of small-size imagery, and since at least the first two probably affected much of the work by lesser-known artists that the show does display.

Certainly not all, possibly not even most, of the works are easily mailable. Many are thickly impastoed and would crack as soon as they were dropped into a mailbox. Others are meticulous, tiny assemblages with fragile little objects attached to or dangling from them. Nonetheless, mailing, postcards and traveling come up more persistently than other subjects in these works—they are loaded with stamps, post-office cancellation marks and drawings and photographs of, and references to, far places. Beyond this recurrent subject, the show includes virtually every genre of contemporary art—from straight photographs to abstract (sometimes even neo-constructivist) pictures to conceptual pieces and private jokes. It also contains work of every level of quality, from the masterly elegance of Callahan’s picture to provincial art club-type watercolors.

Thus if the show demonstrates anything other than how entertaining small-size work can be, it is how varied contemporary sensibility really is. In a way, the show provides a kind of cross-section that one would never find at commercial galleries, with their strict and complex means of selection. More than this, I imagine that many artists make very small-scale works who do not make larger ones—both because large works are expensive and because they require and stand for confidence and ambition. While the general level of the show is thus amateurish, it is at the same time filled with wonderful idiosyncrasies that most galleries would exclude, except if from certain “licensed” eccentrics like Samaras or Jon Borofsky. Both because it is a very intimate medium and because it is by nature almost antipublic (unlikely to be exhibited and actually physically concealable) postcard-size art seems almost naturally to draw out what is most peculiar from individual artists and from the network as a whole.

Leo Rubinfien