New York

Maria Nordman

Since 1967 Maria Nordman has only rarely presented her work in a gallery setting. Usually installed in outdoor, urban spaces, it frequently examines the relationship between subjective perception and architecture as a cultural production. Using common objects, reflected light, and the play of interior and exterior space, her work seeks to reveal the essential components of urban structures. In her recent show, she manipulated both scale and materials, pushing at the constraints of construction to raise questions about the spaces we live in. By underlining the fundamental elements of architecture, Nordman leaves viewers to negotiate the spaces she constructs, to actively invent meaning through interaction with the work.

Situated in the north gallery, the main piece in Nordman’s show had many possible permutations; two complete transformations, supplemented by smaller rearrangements, occurred during the exhibition. Clearly, the mutability of these forms extended beyond the confines of the art gallery, establishing a dialogue with the city beyond—with the kinds of urban sites in which Nordman has often installed interactive work. This connection between the gallery and the extended city was reinforced by the performance that took place during the opening: the windows of the gallery were left open so that the percussionists could use noise from the street as a score for the performance.

Untitled, New York 1992, 1992, also depended on natural and urban lighting. Given the northern exposure, whatever light entered the space during the day was absorbed or subtly diffused by two convertible, freestanding structures. Each was supported by a shorter, perpendicular wall that provided stability and increased the number of potential spatial configurations. Framed in Oregon cedar, one side of each of these T-shaped structures revealed an open infrastructure of horizontal and vertical supports that formed cavities and cubicles containing foldable furniturelike elements many of which had been removed, and set up in the space. The basic accoutrements of indoor city life were re-presented in the narrow recesses of these dividing walls, suggesting a number of potential arrangements. Both the perpendicular supports and the structures themselves were covered with stretched canvas painted white, black, blue, green, or red. These colors accentuated the sense of uniqueness, of a particular space constructed within and against normative architectural principles.

In addition to this piece, a series of drawings entitled “For a New City of Moveable Houses,” 1992, was placed on a table by the window. One was inscribed with “For a new city of moveable houses built around a central forest of maples,” a reflection of the artist’s emphasis on functionality and re-producibility. Quietly defiant of architecture’s less yielding properties, the walls and stowed “furnishings” were prototypes for a living space to be completed by the inhabitant.

Nordman’s work not only examines architectural building-blocks but in so doing unveils a certain mystery within the production-oriented imperatives of efficiency and repetition: her work is an investigation of the meaning generated by pushing at the limits these constraints impose, creating a spatial tension that implicates the viewer.

Patricia C. Phillips