“Virginia Dwan”

Galerie Montaigne

In 1965, Virginia Dwan, who had been running a Los Angeles gallery since 1959, decided to open a second space in New York. This enterprise is the subject of this show, which follows a 1990 exhibit in the same space, presenting work she originally exhibited at the California gallery, by the French Nouveaux Réalistes, most notably Yves Klein and Martial Raysse.

Dwan’s New York gallery was active for a relatively short period of time; although it became her pet project after she abandoned activity in Los Angeles in ’67, she finally closed the New York space in 1971. Sol LeWitt, Robert Smithson, Carl Andre, and Dan Flavin, to name a few, each had one-person shows there and, if we also consider the “language shows” that, from ’67 to ’70, brought together numerous artists around the theme of the so-called intrusion of words into the visual field, we get some idea of what was to become the “Dwan style.” This is not to discount the role of artists such as William Anastasi or Charles Ross who, although perhaps less celebrated than the others, were no less important to the gallery’s history.

The Paris exhibition evidenced this diversity. The fact that a large number of works were presented, apart from creating a bit of a “new talent” feel not usually attached to conceptually oriented works, provided the viewer with a healthy sense of that epoque. A sculpture in white enameled metal by LeWitt, entitled ABCD 2, 1968, and a beautiful small-format drawing by the same artist (Yellow Short Lines not touching, 1971) were shown alongside a single strand of wool by Fred Sandback, a vast shaped canvas by David Novros, and a curious piece by Walter de Maria made from a postcard of a Renaissance painting of the martyr Saint Sebastian that was glued to the center of a large cardboard rectangle (Saint Sebastian, 1969). This show also rectified some false ideas that resulted from the hazards of second-hand information (perhaps I am not the only one to have noticed that, in contrast to what is suggested by the captions in Gregory Battcock’s cult anthology Minimal Art, the works by Anastasi, showing the wall on which the pieces were originally hung, are not “oil on canvas,” but photographic prints).

In two cases, doubtless out of necessity, the artists were represented by works dating from slightly earlier than the period in question, but nonetheless of primary interest; for example, Robert Morris’ Card File, a Fluxus-inspired object from ’62, or Ed Kienholz’s piece from ’63 entitled After the Ball Is Over No. 2, (which consists of a certificate describing an environment to be realized, and a bronze plaque engraved with the title and the name of the artist. The most important group of works consisted of Michael Heizer’s Double Negative, 1970, and several works by Smithson (who seems to have been the éminence grise of the Dwan Gallery), including a polyptych of mirrors (Mirage, 1967), a “nonsite” (Non Site Death Valley, 1968), and the film Spiral Jetty, 1970. Dwan’s career as a gallerist drew to a close just after the realization of these latter two major earthworks. As always, there is a certain grace and much wisdom in knowing how to finish beautifully.

Jean-Pierre Criqui

Translated from the French by Diana C. Stoll.