New York

Brenda Miller

Brenda Miller’s new show, a rope’n’grid installation, is a subversively anti-Minimalist piece which should bear the caveat: oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive Minimalism. The walls and the ceiling of the small gallery at Sperone are scored with a red-and-blue-chalked grid; just standing in the room makes you feel like a coordinate trapped in 3-D graph paper. Part of the room is cordoned off by a floor-to-ceiling rope grid; behind this divider are crosshatched rope filaments which successively grow more slender, and incrementally more limp and tangled. The message of the installation: the grid’s center does not hold. It just gets weak and flabby. What it resembles most is a loom that has run amok, gone on strike.

Miller’s piece bears some morphological resemblance to Patrick Ireland’s installation shown earlier this season: both didactically compare drawing in chalk on walls with drawing in rope in real space. Ireland’s piece keeps the Minimalist faith, however, demanding a fixed point-of-view. It is, additionally, obsessively tidy and impeccably executed—just the opposite of Miller’s looser, more cavalier treatment. Both installations, you feel, are heirs of Duchamp’s “Mile of String” gallery decoration at the Art of this Century Surrealism show in 1938, but Miller’s is more in keeping with the flaccidity of the Duchamp. Ireland’s is stiff, upright.

Minimalism has given Miller just enough rope to hang itself with. There’s the sense that while she was toiling to make this perfect environment where wefts intersect warps at right angles, the system fizzled out, failed to maintain its stranglehold on her imagination. Why? The grid is a geometric vanity that attempts to impose a compartment-like order on any situation—an order that denies the irregular and misshapen qualities of the organic. Seen through the rigid rope graph that divides the room, the cobwebby strands are a reminder of the tangle of tendrils that resist any such superficial imposition of geometric order.

The disorderly/orderly contrast may not be profound, but Miller knows the ropes, and works the flaccid tangle/rigid grid dichotomy into a dialectic. What Miller’s work seems mostly about is defining the uptight temperament of Minimalism and the casual attitude of its corollary, anti-Minimalism. Miller’s lesson: there are other alternatives to Minimalism besides Maximalism.

Carrie Rickey