New York

David Rabinowitch

Flynn Gallery

The five groups of concentric circles that David Rabinowitch has carved into the plaster walls here are null sets, abstractions that deflect meaning. But Rabinowitch has put these empty sets to work in spatial and material terms, using their emptiness as images to shift attention onto the conditions of the space itself. Rabinowitch refutes the traditional and persistent function of the gallery as a neutral white container by taking away from the space rather than adding to it, and by carefully controlling the light. (He designed, as part of the installation, the set of windows that provide the gallery’s only light.) Pale, filtered, and diffuse, the light is not merely at the service of the art, but becomes in itself a palpable material, subject to change.

These gestures represent a continuous line of development in Rabinowitch’s sculptural work since the early ’70s, when the investigation of perception through extreme reduction of means was common territory. His work does not move outside of what are essentially formalist concerns, but it is elegant and specific, and it provides welcome relief in the midst of the current glut of stuff. Circles are used as indices of pure two-dimensionality—as opposed to ellipses, for example, which imply an illusion of space—and thereby call attention to flatness and surface. But these circles, which are six feet in diameter at the widest, and located just above head height, are neither flat nor precisely perfect. They have been incised at three varying depths to correspond with three different layers of plaster construction. Conceptually, the labor of construction—building the plaster wall—is posed against the labor of incision, visible in the slightly wavering edges that register the resistance of the material and the almost imperceptibly fallible hand. The wall becomes a skin, with physical depth and a material nature, rather than a neutral and impenetrable plane.

This installation—Tyndale Constructions in Five Planes with West Fenestration: Sculpture for Max lmdahl, 1988–89—is the first show for the Flynn Gallery, located on what may be the only remaining block in SoHo in which art has not yet triumphed over trucks. Buzzing into the gallery from Crosby Street, from the clash and bang of loading docks to the sudden hushed calm of the shallow, empty room, one becomes acutely aware of the wall that abuts the street (the one with the windows) as a thin but vital membrane separating inside from out. There is no vestibule or step up to ease the transition, and the abrupt change of context provokes awareness. In contrast to the world outside, Rabinowitch’s installation becomes a meditative space, and the circles austere mandalas; they are like the empty O of Eastern mysticism, openings for a simple breathing in and out. Only through careful control of the entire space is this contemplative situation opened up, but the gallery does not exude a sense of rigid control; business is conducted on a simple table set up by the door, not in a sequestered back room, and this practical presence is perfectly continuous with the literalness of the space.

In this and other works, Rabinowitch refers to William Tyndale, who translated the Bible into the vernacular. The artist makes his own sort of translation, bridging the cerebral, distanced, abstract world of two dimensions with that of physical experience, and he creates a sacred space in literal and material terms.

Laurie Palmer