New York

Wallace & Donohue

John Weber Gallery

Through their collaborative efforts, Wallace & Donohue continue to exploit Modernist icons and idioms. The monochrome field as an armature in which to incorporate various objects has become their signature style. In each piece a monochrome tableau floats about two feet in front of the wall. The surface is nothing more than a stage prop, an artificial veneer. In fact, Wallace & Donohue emphatically reveal the elaborate framework of wooden braces and cantilevering planes that support these facades. Like privileged visitors allowed to peer behind the artificial building facades of a Hollywood movie set, we are able to see more than what is edited by the single locus of the camera.

Wallace & Donohue’s monochromes are simple quadrangles emptied of content. They serve as an arena wherein other events occur. In the diptych Rotating Chairs, 1988, a wooden chair is suspended in a green monochrome by a horizontal axle. In the video monitor incorporated into the facade of the adjacent yellow panel, a chair rotates on its axis. The monochrome in The Frigidaire Painting (Like a Pariah), 1988, frames an open refrigerator housing a video monitor, which plays a recording of a handheld camera documenting various plumbing details in an apartment room.

The monochrome, as the sine qua non of Modernist art, signifies the desire to achieve a truly autonomous object. Wallace & Donohue’s treatment of this formal construction as a superficial veneer, however, tells us that such an ideological approach to art-making has gone awry. Their critique of Greenbergian formalism follows the tradition of the post-Minimalists, who found it necessary to bring more subjective involvement to the creation of so-called prime objects, pure forms, and universal concepts. Like those artists who integrated human touch into the fabrication of objects (Robert Ryman’s facteur, Eva Hesse’s irregular grids, Richard Tuttle’s limp canvases), Wallace & Donohue add elements to their monochrome tableaux that introduce a participatory, utilitarian quality to the work. Hand Held Zip # 2, Submerged in Plexi, 1988, is a monochrome incorporating a red stripe in the manner of Barnett Newman. A television monitor encased in a Plexiglas box separates the facade into two canvases. The video image displays a hand-held recording of a red stripe. This line visually connects the severed zips on the painted canvas. The hand-held recording causes the line to shimmer, introducing a form of gestural subjectivism to the painted zip. The act of looking at the video screen is paralleled by the act of the work’s creation.

Wallace & Donohue’s emphasis on the theatrics of the hand-held camera, the moving image, and other participatory issues in the creation and interpretation of art help establish a dialectic between the spectator and the object. Yet their approach has itself become an overused, meaningless signature. They never expand the terms of their restricted ontology of Modernism; rather, they simply accept a generic post-Modern critical attitude toward their subject. As a result, the monochromes simply exist, regardless of what objects or images adhere to them, and they are thereby rendered impotent and obsolete. If Wallace & Donohue were to focus less on the monochrome and more on the issues that arise from using the medium of video, they might have more to offer toward a reexamination of the individual’s role in an increasingly media-created reality.

Kirby Gookin