New York

Jeffrey Jenkins

Stux Gallery

Jeffrey Jenkins’ works, which employ materials such as sod, fur, and dried grass for their grounds, resemble specimens in natural history museums. In Screen (all works, 1989), for instance, wire grids laid over the natural materials recall both scientific diagrams and maps. But Jenkins’ compositions do not describe any scientific finding. Rather, the dusty, decrepit aura of the work conveys a nostalgia for obsolete systems, an attraction to the charm of old-fashioned faith.

The works adopt the formal strategies of minimalism, but their suggestive titles (Burrow, Bound) and symbolically charged materials—earth as the ground we walk on and in which we are buried, fur as a source of warmth taken from animals, the suggestions of barrenness and death in the crusted sod and dried grass—lend a psychological dimension that Minimalism sought to eradicate. Jenkins’ materials recall earth art, but their relatively diminutive scale and the frames designating their status as art run contrary to earth art’s antiobject, antigallery stance.

Jenkins’ works are also infused with a subtle humor absent from most science and much art. The wayward waves of fur and tangled blades of grass seem to mock the tedious grids dutifully containing them; the absurdity of neatly spaced typewriter keys spelling A, E, I, O, U spread across a field of grass pokes fun at our businesslike manner of establishing highly arbitrary ways of ordering reality. By focusing more on artistic and scientific means of presentation than on science and art per se, Jenkins suggests that both endeavors, though beginning as inquiries into experience, end by imposing coherencies that suppress and deaden their objects: art “captures” and, hence, freezes life; the specimen brought in to be preserved dries up in the airless aridity of the museum.

Lois E. Nesbitt