New York

Daniel Buren

John Weber Gallery

In his latest work, Daniel Buren continues a conceptual, formal, and painterly investigation of his great preoccupation—extremely ordinary, very disciplined lines of color. His familiar vertical arrangements of stripes of color alternating with white or light-colored lines once raised tough questions about the process of painting, the structures of perception, the production of art, and the conditions of the work’s surrounding space. Buren’s cerebral line of inquiry and commonplace patterns are the blueprints for and the control group of a range of experiments that can accommodate any combination of variables: material, size, context, etc. His is a tight, rigorous way of working, one that continues to yield an astonishing range of issues and results.

For this exhibition, Buren included eight large pieces, all done in 1989. All are the same size, 87 inches square, and composed of 25 vertical boards that alternate color-stained strips of wood with natural ones. The boards are placed side by side to form different fields of stripes. No horizontal brace holds the separate elements together. The works are not mounted on the wall, but lean against it; the boards sit on the floor in careful formation about three inches from the wall. The method of installation leaves a slender triangle of open space behind each piece. The fact that the works lean suggests a potent ambiguity about the moment of encounter. Is something else going to be done? Has something already occurred? Is it before the beginning or after the end?

Buren uses bold colors—blue, red, green, yellow, and black. Some of the wood strips are ash; others, mahogany. The two woods contrast in color, density, grain, and texture. The choice of wood, the saturated color, and the clear evidence of applied paint bring visceral, sensual qualities to Buren’s precise formal system. The imperfections of the individual components challenge the initial anonymity of the surface. Some boards are warped, edges don’t always obediently align, and small slices of space are often exposed. Absolute esthetic control is held hostage by the flaws and unevenness of the material.

The construction of a painting as separate pieces is not a new turn of events, yet there is something fresh and provocative about Buren’s thinking, the method of composition, and the objects’ seeming dissasembly into bundles of boards. By making the works so ephemeral, fragile, and ready to be pulled apart, Buren shows how the authority of vision, of a formal program, is susceptible to all kinds of viruses. His paintings are intentionally inconclusive; they are short-lived proposals subject to change and amendment. The artist’s faith in repetition shapes the encounter, as do the anticipation and memory that inform all perceptual experience.

––Patricia C. Phillips