New York

Shigeko Kubota

White Columns

Rivers, mountains, time, death, and Marcel Duchamp have been the primary elements of Shigeko Kubota’s work for most of the last twenty years—first in Tokyo, where in 1963 she met John Cage, then a year later in New York, where she almost immediately became “vice-chairman” of Fluxus. Since 1975 she has been making video sculptures of a very blunt lyricism, which poses some great gaga-metaphysical questions: “Are we dancing still on the gigantic palm of Duchamp, thinking it is a big continent and ocean?” “Can we communicate with the dead through video?” “Is video vacant apartment?” “Is video vacation of art?”. In this compact retrospective put together by Brooks Adams, an art historian and writer, there were eleven sculptures, six of which established “contact” with Duchamp, and the rest, through Kubota’s earthlier channels, with nature, perception, and self.

The dates of Kubota’s pieces often involve hyphens that cover five, six, seven years, and are still open-ended. Photo-graphs taken in 1968 of a “reunion concert” chess game in Toronto between Cage and Duchamp were keyed, colorized, and transferred onto videotape in 1972–73. A sculpture shown here, Video Chess, included a clear chessboard with Lucite chess pieces mounted on a plywood frame containing a monitor facing upward and playing the concert tape. Video Chess was itself first assembled (and taken apart) in 1975, and seen in 1983 it conjured not only Duchamp, but random flashbacks of one’s own from this fifteen-year period—not to mention reflections in the glass. Among the “Duchampiana” were also three plywood cubes on conforming pedestals, homages to his Fresh Widow, 1920, with miniature French windows that revealed monitors playing tape mixes of “snow,” “stars,” and “flowers”; Upstate/Downstate Project: Green Installation, 1983, a mirrored, stepped pyramidal structure, with eight monitors playing a synthesis of color tapes taken of the Southwestern landscape and the artist within it; and finally Bicycle Wheel, 1983, making a debut in this life, with a tiny revolving Sony playing a more local landscape.

Adams said he fell in love with Kubota’s work when he saw The River (1979–81—three live monitors suspended over and reflected in the activated water in an aluminum trough) in last year’s Whitney Biennial. Video Haiku (first realized in 1981), a live monitor suspended in a rotating, spherical console over a mirrored dish on the floor, was the piece in this show that most closely echoed The River’s elegiac meter. Using live cameras in finished pieces seems to release Kubota’s contemplative, literary side. The River and Video Haiku have a physical ambiguity that both effects and invites reflection. The synthetic mixes of the tapes themselves, considered apart from the structures they inhabit, are technologically whizzy, but otherwise tend to be one-dimensional.

This show of clunky masonry with “eyes,” hovering ’60s consoles, and “Duchampiana” was among the freshest-looking this fall. Free of documentation, fetish, and the rest of the clutter that often follows former Fluxites, the installation was a breeze.

Lisa Liebmann