New York

Charles Gaines

Charles Gaines, who has received little critical attention over the last decade, is a loopy, poetically inclined conceptualist whose graphs and grids and “purposeless” mathematics thinly mask a passion for the illogical. As Navajo rugmakers always weave a deliberate imperfection into their geometric patterns (anti-hubris), Gaines includes random elements as part of his process. His systems, as he puts it, “do not show that tie reality of the universe is order, they simply show that the reality of the universe is not the metaphor.”

Some months ago Gaines asked Trisha Brown to dance for him, which she did (a middle-section solo from Son of Gone Fishin’), and the resulting series is called “Motion: Trisha Brown Dance Photographs & Graphs Sequencing Continuous Movement at 125th/Second at 1 Second Intervals. Continuous Plotting of Determined and Arbitrary Sequences.” Each set is made up of two glossy color photographs of Brown in motion, two graphed “shadows” of the photographs marked by numbers inked in a color, and a subseries of smaller graphs on which different stages of movement, in separately colored numbers, are layered over one another. The layering increases as the series continues. These photographs, unlike most dance photography, focus on transitional phases rather than on stances, which makes them particularly well suited to their subject——Brown shuns “positions.” The accumulating patterns of the smaller graphs are two-dimensional analogies (not metaphors) for Brown’s choreography.

The title of the piece is misleading to the extent that it suggests a rigid, programmatic approach on Gaines’ part. Brown, for instance, chose the photographs that she preferred, thereby segmenting any implied continuity. And Gaines sometimes repeats graph images, or runs them out of sequence, to confound expectations. The graphs, in fact, seem to take on a life of their own, assuming a filmlike quality that reveals motion, while the photographs, like prime numbers, seem to freeze it.

In a concurrent show, “Landscape: Trees with Regressions,” Gaines numerically graphed the shapes of photographed trees, then abstracted them into Constantin Brancusi/Isamu Noguchi-like formations. “Regressions” refers to the formulas Gaines used to arrive at his abstractions, and to the images which, once transformed, recede from the center of the graphic plane. Gaines’ formulas are essentially alchemical: one part long division—undivulged sums divided by arbitrary numbers—and three parts intuition. Each of these ten sets consists of a color photograph and three graphs, the last of which, a subdivision of the abstracted shape, charts the original position of the tree.

To some who witnessed the deluge of word-image, image-number, and numerical-alphabetical-grocery-list art in the early ’70s, Gaines’ formats, beautifully presented though they are, could seem tired. But concept art is a commitment, not just a style. Suffice it to say that Gaines’ work may be the best of its kind. His systems are not gimmicks, or solipsisms, or mental gymnastics; they are instruments for exploration—perceptual compasses, and his images are surprisingly lyrical.

Lisa Liebmann