New York

Max Neuhaus

The Clocktower

There is no doubt that the many alternative spaces that opened in the ’70s were crucial to redefining given forms of painting and sculpture. Unlike museums and galleries, these spaces are not neutral; they insinuate themselves into the work. As a result, they have abetted art that is indexical in nature as well as art based on performance.

The tower of the Clocktower is not as insistent as many such spaces: nevertheless, it does inflect work shown there. In Five Russians (A Tuned Room) Max Neuhaus has made it the very medium of the work. There are four high windows in the tower. In the one to the south Neuhaus hid a speaker that emitted four pitches—two high and two low. These combined in bizarre ways: near the source they had a density that hit the body; elsewhere the effect was much more rare; and there were even nodal spots where the waves seemed to cancel. One felt at once very fine and very inadequate as a register.

Neuhaus set five chairs (why Five Russians?) about the room. There were thus three spatial indices—the chairs, the windows (N, S, E,W), and the pitches. The first two had the authority of convention but the pitches were definitive. In effect, one’s body became the index to one’s perception as, say, a weathervane is an index to the wind’s direction; and yet because one was “inside” the signification process, it was impossible to orient oneself in the space by the pitches.

In a prefatory note Neuhaus spoke of the room as a “body of air” and a “block of material”—that is, in terms of sculpture. Inasmuch as one was ”inside“ the work, one was its object and subject at once: its figure or presence was one’s own. Yet though its space and the viewer’s were not distinct, it had a ”content“ other than the viewer. Agitated by the pitches, the space doubled itself: it was at once a static room and an active medium of air. Given the various densities of the waves, one could even speak of the ”sculpture" in the conventional terms of volume and void.

Hal Foster