New York

Frank Gerritz

Stark Gallery

There’s something delirious about Frank Gerritz’s new drawings: What at first looks like a uniform, impassive, metallic panel divided into rectangles with machine-made precision is discovered on closer inspection to be a finely grained, handmade, multilayered surface. The drawings require time to be truly seen, and the more time we give them the more startling they become. Each has a subtly different structure and its own magical force, even inner life. The dense graphite sheen refracts natural light (and the viewer’s reflection) into a subtle, transcendentally “shady” radiance that is constantly changing. Light restlessly struggles to escape the graphite but is unable; the medium holds it captive.

Gerritz’s abstractions are full of Cézannean sensations, fixed in the amber of the graphite but still vibrating. They are not only expressively complex and art-historically self-conscious but also phenomenologically and epistemologically suggestive: They raise the question of what we see when we claim to see and answer it contradictorily, implying an unresolved tension between finished gestalt form and “incomplete” gestalt-free flickering. However much they ground their answer in art history and aesthetics, Gerritz’s paintings point to the ambiguity of seeing and suggest that the fundament of art is a matter of the organization of perception.

If postmodernism is the reification of modernism and ultimately of every kind of art, as its ecumenical and synthesizing tendencies suggest, then Gerritz’s drawings are wholly postmodern—petrifications of one extreme of modernism as well as the perceptual possibilities explored by the best art regardless of its cultural and historical origin. If, on the other hand, postmodernism is an entropic apocalypse in which each mode of art idolizes itself even as it combines with other modes to form a kind of Frankenstein monster, then whether the creature comes to life depends on the artist’s ability to insinuate his or her own life into it. Gerritz succeeds not only because his hand is evident, however measured, but also because he uses his own body’s dimensions as a module, a standard for systematic division. The central section in Between the Lines (Parallel Universe), 2000, is sized according to Gerritz’s height and the width of his shoulders; the sections on either side of the middle rectangle are each as wide as the artist’s head. In Two Center Block I–IV, 1996, four small, solid cast-iron sculptures on the floor, the interplay of matter and geometrical concept seems designed to make us aware of the dimensions of our own bodies as we walk around and through the installation.

Minimalism at its best has always thrown the dimensions of the viewer’s body into doubt, calling attention to the relativity of measure itself and of dividing space into dimensions even as it demands the body’s participation in the space of the work. What makes Gerritz’s graphite drawings bizarre is that they absorb the space of the body—specifically, the artist’s own—into their Minimalist flatness and density, however different the dimensions involved.

Donald Kuspit