New York

Peter Hopkins

American Fine Arts

Peter Hopkins’ recent show consists of six paintings, two photographs, two steel tables, and framed stats of typewritten formulas betraying the ingredients of the paintings. The formulas are based on Robert Smithson’s “Pulverizations” (although Smithson is not credited within the show), and Hopkins has substituted his own ingredients for the formulas’ variables. These include water from runoff pipes, varnish (blue), effluence, cherry Coca-Cola, sludge, Clorox, oil (motor/used), Ty-D-Bol, root beer, power-plant discharge, transmission fluids, and East River water.

The paintings, called Covered Sites Q-V, 1991, are composed of two to five of the above fluids (according to the formulas presented on the office wall) combined with X (supporting canvas), Y (interventions), and Z (fabric) that absorbs and sandwiches the layers of spillage. The square steel tables have shallow rims around their tops, which contain a kind of oil mixed with perfume. Each table, together with one of the black-and-white photographs of a corner of the gallery, constitutes a Perfume Performance Site; the photograph exists as a record of the scented gallery, which looks, of course, exactly like the unscented gallery.

Though the amount of information needed to understand Perfume Performance Site: A (front) and B (back), 1991 , borders, like the attempt to photodocument a scent, on the absurd, Hopkins’ references to Smithson and his consistent concern with pollution leads one to suspect that his project is more sincere than ironic. Work such as Hopkins’, which is incomplete without the artist’s guidance and explanation, leads to a rather schoolish experience for the viewer and seems to block more whimsical and ironic interpretations.

Hopkins brings his concern both with pollution (perfume serving as a metaphor for an invisible form of contamination such as radiation and certain gasses), and with Smithson’s broad and brilliant practice, to a project that takes the form of an array of fairly traditional and domestic artifacts: photographs, boxes, tables, and paintings. Hopkins’ most compelling gestures are his scented perfume paintings, his paintings made out of East River water, and his roll of canvas mired in a box of gluey waste. Like Smithson’s “non-sites,” Hopkins’ “covered sites” constitute a kind of nonrepresentational representation of the environment. While Smithson boxed the minerals that compose our planet and invited us to consider their forms within the contrivances of Minimalism, Hopkins displays the chemicals and polluted waters we consume, touch, and inhale within the familiar structure of the easel painting. Bringing these ingredients to painting transforms them from samples into a form of representation of our sickly environment.

Covered Sites: Q-V are tall and glossy and quite handsome in a generically monochromatic way. A kind of translucent moire nylon seems to have been used as Z (fabric) in some of them (or is it the Ty-D-Bol playing with the root beer that shimmers and changes from brown into an antifreeze-green as one walks by?). Covered Site: S, made of sludge, varnish, and cherry coke, is a brilliant orange with the unnatural luminosity of Diet Slice. The paintings look as sick and unnatural as the materials they are composed of. They are transformative, alchemical dumping sites, as beautifully hermetic as a climate-controlled mall, and as decadent as hair spray, Ready Whip, and Pop Rocks. It will be interesting to see how the Clorox and power-plant discharge commingle with the varnish over the years. It may not be a pretty sight, though it will probably beat out the East River.

Matthew Weinstein