New York

Stanley Brouwn

Yvon Lambert New York

This exhibition was Stanley Brouwn’s first New York outing since 2002, although a clutch of recent European shows indicate his gradual reappearance on the institutional radar over the past few years. Brouwn never really disappeared; he’s just notoriously reclusive (no photographs, no reproductions, no interviews) and, to judge from the international locales referenced in the work on view, always on the move. He continues to make diagrammatic drawings that employ the units of measurement—based on the proportions of his own body—that he developed in the early 1960s, but the fifteen works on view here, dating from 1999 to 2005, also recruit comparable systems used (often centuries ago) in the places to which he’s been traveling.

Although affiliated with the Dutch arm of Fluxus, Brouwn has always been more of a stone soup Conceptualist: Earlier projects evoked Vito Acconci’s step-counting, Richard Long’s documented walks, and Robert Morris’s Card File, 1962. In this show, he channeled Mel Bochner’s interest in measurement in conjunction with Sol LeWitt’s use of diagrams, but not as an epigone; the work certifies that, forty years on, there’s life left yet in several of Conceptual art’s strategies. With ruler-limned horizontal and vertical pencil lines, Brouwn charts his personal calibrations, in tandem with the standard metric system and archaic gauges such as the Hispanic vara and the Western European ell (an outdated means of quantifying pieces of cloth, itself based on human hand width). Some drawings show single units partitioned into grids or triangles, and two illustrate the graceful division of a line into the golden section. Others demonstrate local fluctuations of length and width: Summoning Duchamp’s Three Standard Stoppages, 1913–14, a triplet of vertical lines represent the ell’s variance in different European cities, and another work reveals deviations in the length of the foot as it was once used in Lisbon, Cologne, and Boston.

If Brouwn’s touch were any lighter, these drawings would be invisible, and two, in fact, are identical blank sheets of paper (one is measured in Polish lokie, the second in Icelandic alen). The only visual incident comes in occasional incisions of faint red pencil and the legends in the works’ lower right-hand corners that note the proportions used and provide conversion equations (how many centimeters in a meter, yes, but also how many centimeters in a Moroccan drâa and a Japanese ken). Brouwn’s fastidious parsing of the distinctions between conventional mensuration, international irregularities, and the labile dimensions of his own body takes up—and sends up—the Conceptualist faith in disinterested systems, but this injection of subjectivity is ultimately less absorbing than its collateral effects. These works, held behind sheets of glass with L-pins, are so spare that the space of the gallery redounds insistently: Floor scuffs and stains, ceiling beams, and electrical outlets positively glare. That Brouwn’s geometries are always related to the dimensions of the support, and, on several wall labels, to the dimensions of the wall and the room in which they hang, intensifies the scrutiny of site and siting. Most mesmerizing of all, though, are the small keys that spell out and recapitulate the schemas of the drawings, deftly rejuvenating the coincidence of linguistic proposition and physical execution so prized by Conceptualism.

Lisa Pasquariello