Larry Jens Anderson

Callonwolde Fine Arts Center

Larry Jens Anderson’s recent work balances a century of the clichés of the classroom on the edge of their common conformism. The key to the works in this show, all from 1986, was Golden Triangle, in which a photograph of a pair of the Parthenon’s sculptures is collaged into a drawn triangle, as if the sculptures had been reinserted into the pediment from which Lord Elgin removed them. The craft element of art school instruction is brought into play by the prominence in the piece of Anderson’s handmade paper, and the whole period of late Modernist formalism is recalled by the major abstract motif, an X in a square that recurs in much of his recent work. Several other works are mock artists’ books, projected onto framed sheets complete with a drawn spiral binding, as in The Good (Explanatory) Book. His “good book” reference is a critique of the myth of a single true method, style, or interpretation: his book’s text is a tiny series of postage-stamp-sized abstractions followed by an equal number of black squares the same size. The “explanation” provided by the juxtaposition of the two pages provides a critique of both the truisms of the academy and the opaque, hermeneutic contortions of the semiotics industry.

The drawings Twin #1 and Twin X’s act as a systemic meditation on the relationship between identical forms. These framed Xs have the same contradictory gestural minimalism as certain Minimalist artists’ books of the ’70s, such as Brice Marden’s Suicide Notes and Richard Nonas’ Enough’s Enough. But Anderson states the contradiction plainly, as a primary subject. The result is that he brings both the systemic and the expressive ontologies back to the firm ground of artistic practice—with a thud. Anderson claims he uses the minimal-academic notion of “material as content” only as a means of avoiding egocentrism in his work, but the two strains of Modernism, the reductive and the subjective, are presented equally at arm’s length.

Anderson is a versatile artist whose works are recognizably his own more by virtue of his loose, gestural line and his command of the technique of art-historical reference than by a single coherent style. In another recent installation he filled two sections of a wall with real hypodermic needles and knives, some of whose blades were covered by condoms. Below the objects were outlines of knife-shapes drawn directly on the wall. In between the two groups of objects were three framed still-life drawings of knives delicately balanced in a formal arrangement, their formality undercut by the image of blood dripping from some of the blades. The combined sense of threat and social commentary recalled such works as Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs, 1965, and Lucas Samaras’ Transformation: Knives, 1968. However, Anderson’s recent drawings suggest a more concentrated mediation on the accumulated pressure of the past in the practice of art. The system into which he draws the viewer is a juggling act in which each element of Modernism hangs suspended for a moment in the skeptical eye of the artist.

Glenn Harper