Los Angeles

Serge Spitzer

Burnett Miller Gallery

Serge Spitzer is a Romanian-born Minimalist who currently divides his time between jerusalem and West Berlin. Although his installations owe obvious debts to such reductive purists as Carl Andre and Richard Serra, Spitzer’s sensibility seems more closely aligned with the humanistic and socially conscious tenets of the Russian Constructivists and, more recently, Joseph Beuys. Spitzer’s work is about seeing and observing, whereby the eye acts as a mediator between complex conceptual issues. The association between object and one’s experience of it sets up territories and coordinates that may then exist as similes for psychological boundaries or traps.

Until recently Spitzer’s work was specifically concerned with concealment and limitation. Objects were placed on a high shelf so that only a tantalizingly enigmatic section of each was visible from below In the site-specific Exposure, 1984, for example, Spitzer concealed a military tank on the roof of the jerusalem Theater, transforming a potentially lethal object (and cliched political metaphor) into an ambiguous, dramatic presence. In About Territories, Traps and Living Spaces, 1979, at the Museum Folkwang, Essen, Spitzer projected on a wall partial (anonymous) images of his forehead and eyes, drawing attention to the false three-dimensionality and seemingly static energy of projected light. Space and territory thus became defined through creating an awareness of what we don’t see or know Spitzer became the center of the experience by proxy, transferring all interpretation to the viewer.

In Untitled (About Sculpture), 1986, Spitzer’s latest installation of objects and drawings-as-objects, concealment gave way to a more open topography, both within each work and in relationship to the environment as a whole. The objects themselves tended to refer outside themselves, either to painting, drawing, or architecture, while simultaneously undermining the structural integrity of the space. Spitzer’s drawings, for example, were black-and-ocher calligraphic abstractions realized with the full, gestural sweep of the body, as if releasing some pent-up tension; yet they were also stunted and confined by virtue of their being framed under glass. Here, the resulting panels were arranged into squat, gridlike compositions, so that overall form was realized only through deliberate external manipulation, not through the organic process of drawing itself.

This dislocation of art object and concept was particularly evident in a wall grouping of four unframed brown paper bags arranged in a square. On each bag was an arc of black paint that, in combination with the others, formed a circle. Spitzer’s metaphor here was clearly one of carrying. The bags were intrinsically carriers—of the overall form and the painted circle—but they were themselves carried as sculpture by the gallery wall.

If we apply this formal/functional ambiguity to the structure of the space as a whole, then we discover that territories collapse under the weight of their own symbolic rhetoric. One of the gallery’s large concrete support pillars, for example, was the anchor of a series of black rectangular panels that fanned out to create a false ceiling. The panels contained the fragments of a large red circle that in turn “carried” four smaller black circles. These symbols obviously related to the rectangle/circle symbolism of the other works, neatly tying the individual signs together. However, we had already seen how surface signs were undercut by arbitrary composition, so that we then began to doubt the integrity of the pillar-ceiling combination. Everything began to contain or carry everything else, so that building, object, and artist became ambiguous similes for the transience of any creation. The viewer was thrust into the work both as interpreter and as structural cement. Spitzer has always claimed that he strives to create a human presence and warmth in his work, but in the case of this wide-open formal “text,” that presence was us.

Colin Gardner