New York

Jim Hodges

CRG Gallery

Jim Hodges’s transformations of the readymade through labor-intensive processes have always had a strong phenomenological cast. His works are, on one level, the physical record of long, painstaking work, and it seems increasingly, clear that this artist’s “phenomenology” is positioned in contradistinction to that of ’60s and ’70s style Minimalism. While the phenomenological experience of the historical work was understood to exist outside real-world social relations, Hodges’s art insists upon iconographic and biographic particulars.

Many of Hodges’s earlier works share a formalist preoccupation with surface, and in the current exhibition, two pieces directly refer to postwar abstract painting, beginning with their gridlike structure. The first, Folding (into a greater world), 1998, is constructed from mirror, which the artist buys commercially and cuts into rectilinear fragments that he then sands down to pieces approximately a half-inch square in size and glues onto canvas. In this work, the panel of irregular shards creates extreme distortions in which the viewer’s reflected body seems to have pieces missing, literalizing what Michael Fried described in Pollock’s cutout paintings: the sense that the holes are not merely gaps in the physical structure of the work but in the visual field itself.

Across from the mirror work. As close as I can get, 1998, a collage of small patches of color in a checkerboard pattern, recalls a Paris-years Ellsworth Kelly. The piece, a witty take on the history of post-AbEx painting, comprises nine panels, each made up of hundreds of Pantone color chips. While the artist claims to have allowed chance to figure in the structure of the work, strong combinations of complementary colors emerged from Pantone’s prior selection of tones for color-coordinated interior decoration. The overall visual effect is not unlike certain paintings by Kenneth Noland or Morris Louis, in which color seems to float independent of the wall, creating the hallucination of opticality so prized by the champions of post-painterly abstraction.

While Hodges’s invocation of the typically gendered spheres of craft and interior design in these pieces already transforms the canonical concerns of high modernism, other pieces shift the frame of reference even further. In He and I, 1998, for instance, a work that consists of two overlapping sets of concentric circles drawn on the wall, there is an obvious affinity with Sol Lewitt. But unlike a Lewitt, the drawings don’t represent the mere instantiation of a set of instructions, and the precise but wavy lines signal that they are hand drawn. These slightly undulating pink and green curves not only speak to a certain fragility, but Hodges indicates through his title that the work is a kind of indexical love letter: The tops of the two groups of interlocking circles are measured to the heights of Hodges and his partner.

The single most striking work in the show takes Hodges away from the terrain of high modernism. Landscape, 1998, is a kind of self-portrait consisting of shirts of decreasing size layered one inside the other. The outermost garment is a man’s white shirt laid out flat on a table, arms outstretched. Through the arm and neck holes we see concentric rings formed by fifteen other handmade shirts. Each is tailored from a different material, and each evokes an era in the artist’s life. At the collar, all of these strata suggest a distinct narrative, moving from a white baby jacket at the core to a child’s striped pajama top, to the silver spaceman vinyl from the days of disco excess. But Hodges complicates the threads of his iconographic history, allowing the underlying layers to leave their mark on the surface by the impression of color and pattern seen through the buttoned-up and neatly pressed white exterior. By sewing in biographical undertones, Hodges decisively recognizes in this piece the art that in many ways most influences him, the long history of feminist work that broke down the strict demarcations between art and craft, while insisting on the utility of the personal.

Andrew Perchuk