New York

James Hyde

Paolo Baldacci Gallery

Like Donald Judd before him, James Hyde strategically shifts the terrain of painting from that of a surface (normally a rectangle) to that of a volume (that is, a box). Unlike his celebrated predecessor, Hyde seems wedded to the idea that this redefined three-dimensional thing should retain its identity as painting. His success in bringing off this revisionist recuperation of Minimalism has been dependent on his mediation of the chancy interaction between the rigidity of the box (now far more active than the mere “support” of the stretched canvas) and the fluidity of its contents. Hyde’s predilected solutions involve conjoining considerable ingenuity with impressive physicality. When the two meet effectively, the result is often a shift in perspective or a reversal of scale. But that effect often depends on the work’s interaction with its architectural environment, and in a space as imposing as this one, art has a hard time maintaining control.

Sometimes the result can be a productively ambiguous standoff, as in Fix (all works 1997), a huge and deeply crumpled surface (it looks somehow malleable, perhaps even in motion, though a surreptitious tap proves it in fact to be quite stiff) made of jumbled swathes of brightly colored tape of the kind normally used for the lettering of store awnings. In the mind’s eye, the piece keeps shifting back and forth between its true dimensions, the even larger amount of wall space it would take up were its surface flattened smooth, and the tiny scale it would have to have to have been scrunched up by hand as it appears to have been. At least that’s what happens here; in tighter quarters, the work’s muscular topography might be—more simply but perhaps more effectively—overwhelming.

A less dramatic and ambiguous but no less engaging play on the painting surface as topography occurs in Sweep. Its rough rectangles of acrylic paint have been grubbily slathered across a carpet laid out, as a carpet should be, horizontally, over a wall-mounted rectangular steel framework. In a sense the piece is playing possum, drawing you close and directing your attention mostly downward, away from the surrounding context, in order to reveal itself slowly. By contrast, Shade, a work whose white plastic shrink-wrap skin encloses a steel framework and fluorescent lights, comes across as a site-specific piece responding to the adjacent skylight. This cool package of soft white luminosity ends up being less vivid as an experience than as an idea of an experience.

But the best works here were three that made no attempt either to compete with the space or to blend in with it, but simply to remain, in a traditional sense, autonomous. Grip, Grind, and Graft were not only the smallest works on view—though at approximately 6 feet in height each, they were hardly insignificant in size—but were as far as Shade was from the brash color of Fix or the vigorous surface textures of Sweep. All three works consist of glass boxes mounted on steel shelves bolted to the wall and leaning back at a shallow angle. The inside back surface of each box has been lightly “painted” with axle grease (which turns out, in fact, to look a lot like yellowish-brown paint when pushed around in this way). Their effect is a bit like Chinese landscape painting as reinterpreted in the style of a de Kooning—at once ethereal and muscular, and satisfyingly distant from any literalism, as they also are from any dissimulation of what they quite literally are.

Barry Schwabsky