Rita McBride

Mai 36 Galerie / Annemarie Verna Galerie

In “Art and Objecthood,” Michael Fried discussed the “literalist” and the “theatrical” aspects of Minimalism. Over thirty years later, Rita McBride comes forth as if she had spontaneously engaged these objections and, with a lightly ironic undertone, taken them as her point of departure in works whose form often literally corresponds to industrial materials. In the Annemarie Verna Galerie, for instance, McBride showed a large construction that reminds one as much of a Donald Judd sculpture as it does of some kind of extravagant casing for a ventilating system on the roof of an industrial complex. Fashioned of copper sheets fitted over a steel frame, the piece, titled White Elephant, 1999, simultaneously evokes the impermanence of a stage set that can be quickly disassembled and the polished aura of a work of art not to be touched.

The show at the Mai 36 Galerie began with one of the legends of modern design: displayed on a platform was a Thonet chair, but one whose signature curved forms are made entirely out of Murano glass and held together with shrink-wrap. The piece, titled Chair, 1997, is a self-evident combination of high and low, and there is an interesting play between the precision of the handiwork and the rash, improvised gesture of wrapping.

McBride studied with Michael Asher at Cal Arts, and one sees her taking up his brand of institutional critique of the architecture of the exhibition space. She pushes it further, however, with a theatricality that undermines the critical stance itself. Six Skylights, 1998, comprises three aluminum and three bronze castings of skylights—the kind of standardized dormer windows that typically appear on the roofs of industrial structures—which were placed on the floor of the Galerie Verna. Due to their material transformation and altered position in space, elements of the infrastructure become sculpture. At the same time, the exhibition space proves to be a stage played on by a shifting public. Set up for the first time at Witte de With in Rotterdam, McBride’s largest work to date is a sculpture that resembles the tiered construction of an arena; viewers could take seats and observe the curators at work in their offices or other members of the public entering the space.

McBride demonstrates a kinship to artists such as Thomas Schütte, who, for the show “von hier aus” (from here) in Dusseldorf in 1984, planned a curved ramp from which the entire exhibition was supposed to be surveyed; the project never progressed beyond the model stage. McBride also plays with the displacement of dimensions in models. At Mai 36 Galerie, three cast bronze models of parking garages were distributed across the floor. In the middle was Three Hunchbacks, 1995, a piece comprising three seven-inch-high female figures placed in a circle. With their intermediate scale—too large for the parking garages, too small for the visitors—these giggling women disrupted any relation to the work. Into the rigorously modular, geometric architecture of the car parks, they introduced a narrative moment—and the dissident body that never corresponded to Le Corbusier’s Modulor.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Diana Reese.