Newark, N.J.

“Real Property”

City Without Walls

In the catalogue accompanying this exhibition, curator Leah Dumer cites a quotation from Craig Owens’ essay “Feminism and Postmodernism” (1983), which concerns the narratives of mastery that have dominated desire, man’s manipulation of land and property in an effort “to transform . . . the world into a representation, with man as its subject.” This ambitious premise in hand, Durner then asked how contemporary artists comment on this process of “transformation: or commodification, and on the idea of possession and ”real property" She cast her net widely assembling some tough, provocative work, not all of which clearly supported her organizing theme.

In the ’60s and ’70s many artists left the studio and its urban context for the wide-open horizons of rural landscapes. However, with the exception of Dennis Oppenheim’s lithograph of his 1979 Devil’s Hole project, the work in this show focused on either urban development or the extended issues of global politics and land use. Ours may be a culture based on easily accessed information, but the tangibility of territory clearly retains great power. The focal point of Susan Bowman’s project Remains Recovered, 1986, is a rough, bath mat–covered model of a forested, mountainous landscape, which has been pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle. Adjacent to the model was a continuous slide presentation featuring the model as photographed in front of light-filled, ephemeral backdrops (the effect of rear-screen projection) of national monuments, thrusting rockets, rural landscapes, and stars. The proximity of these montages to the model creates a state of perceptual confusion: which is constructed fiction and which is tangible object? The technical crudeness of the model, which appears to change scale in each imagistic situation, is an emphatic critique of the misappropriation of land and the mythology of territorial acquisition as progress, which is as much created as fulfilled by politics.

Other works in the show were more conventional in format, but their tone was equally critical. Jersey Avenue, 1984, by Tim Daly, is a dusky charcoal drawing of the underbelly of a railroad bridge; it is both allusive and descriptive, setting up a dialogue between the city as abstract concept and one’s private recollections of the real thing. Daly’s depiction of the edges of city spaces broods on the ideas of social demarcation, marginal activities, and urban decay Julio Plaza’s book Poetica, 1969–77 (which could be read front to back or back to front), features inkblot maps that shift from page to page, conveying the suddenness with which artificial boundaries are imposed, deleted, or redrawn, either through war or through political compromise. Plaza’s work, like Daly’s, deals with the cultural (or implied) as well as the physical borders that define our perception of cities and larger regions alike.

Most major conflicts, both interpersonal and international, involve a notion of territory, of possession and its (mis)apprehension as absolute entitlement. In this exhibition, the relationship of territory to art was presented as a dimension of culture as well as of politics—in most cases. But I suspect that the ideological lens through which the curator selected the work was not necessarily shared by all the artists.

Patricia C. Phillips