Los Angeles

Richard Jackson

Rosamund Felsen Gallery

Using the contexturalization of painting as his material paradigm, Richard Jackson’s installations have consistently exploited a dialectic between the illusionistic and the literal. His theoretical springboard would appear to be Michael Fried’s well-known, late-’60s distinction between art and objecthood. According to Fried, the Minimalist (literalist) practice of creating environmental situations, in which artwork, beholder, and surrounding space create a contingent, experiential gestalt was not art. Because the active viewer became the subject of the piece, the actual artwork was necessarily transformed into a mere object. In contrast, true art must be by definition its own subject: perpetually present, transforming its literal properties (shape, formal syntax, surface) through illusion, so that it always transcends the sum of its discrete parts. Jackson’s career so far has been concerned with exploding this distinction, for it is the very contingent and participatory nature of Jackson’s work that allows illusion to come fully into play.

The centerpiece of Jackson’s recent installation was an untitled square maze previously exhibited in Sacramento (1987) and in Houston (1988). The work consisted of a narrow corridor running between a constructed exterior wall painted in dazzling Op art stripes, and a cell-like central space framed by bars. As the viewer walked along the corridor, the bars came into kinetic, retinal play with the painted stripes, creating dizzying, strobelike effects. Even the seeming sanctity of the interior space proved disconcerting, for every sideways glance or turn of the head produced an effect close to vertigo or motion sickness. Jackson’s point is that illusion, and by extension art, is always performative—the result of the interaction between the bodily senses and material objects. The cell bars thus act as a physical paradigm for the very mediation that makes art possible.

This reification of art as material process was developed in Maze 5:00 (all works 1990), in which the color combinations of the maze installation were repeated in the form of a large colored grid painted directly on the gallery wall. Jackson then attached a small canvas to a wooden arm anchored in the center of the square so that it resembled the hand of a clock. The canvas was rotated in a clockwise direction, smearing the paint into a multicolored circle reminiscent of Gerhard Richter’s abstractions. The result was a frozen, material manifestation of the retinal effects produced by the actual, three-dimensional maze, as well as a clear metaphorical reference to the import of time, duration, and site on the process of painting itself.

However, measured time is hardly the specific, concrete parameter of reception one might be led to believe. The large, handless dial of Clock Face, with its hours divided into fifths by a sunburst of lines radiating from its center, reiterates the same dizzying Op effect of the maze, suggesting that time itself is an illusory perception. The piece is actually a dummy of one of 1,000 working clocks that will cover the walls and ceiling of a gallery space in a future installation called Big Time Ideas. Although the clocks will be set in perfect sync with each other, our sheer inability to take them in with one glance will force us to see them as fragments, perceptually out of sync with each other. Paradoxically, to perceive the clocks in sync, they must be literally out of sync in order to compensate for the duration of our glance. It is here that Jackson discovers the perfect paradigm for the slippery dialectic between illusion and literality. Because of the physical and temporal shortcomings of the beholder’s bodily and sensory response, art must lie in order to give the impression of telling the truth.

Colin Gardner