New York

Mary Miss

Senior & Shopmaker Gallery

Rosalind Krauss begins her canonical 1978 essay, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” by considering an artwork made by Mary Miss earlier that year. Almost invisible from a distance, the piece is nonetheless enormous, its elements spanning four acres and comprised of vast amounts of steel, wood, and soil. Krauss attributes the work’s visual elusiveness to its placement literally below the radar. One of its components is a labyrinthine underground courtyard accessible to viewers only by descending a small wooden ladder. Yet, Perimeters/Pavillions/Decoys can hardly be considered “entirely below grade,” as the critic argues, since it also includes two earth mounds and three towers, all of which are aboveground and thus presumably in full sight.

Miss, a contemporary of Alice Aycock, Michael Heizer, and Robert Smithson, has honed an idiosyncratic practice that uses scale in order to diffuse rather than garner attention. She asks that viewers focus less on a work’s singular elements and more on the way their eyes and bodies navigate those same elements while never being able to hold them all together. Such a subtle and counterintuitive approach can be seen in the artist’s early sculptural work from the ’60s and even more clearly in her outdoor pieces from the ’70s on. Unexpectedly powerful in this regard are the artist’s recent large-scale photocollages, which, despite their flatness, effect a kind of diagrammatic, virtually phenomenological pull.

Measuring several feet across, Miss’s “photo/drawings,” as she calls them, are, at a glance, views of “landscapes” that run the gamut of that word’s definitions: a collapsed pier partially submerged in the Hudson River; pristine agricultural containers stacked Judd-like in a Mississippi field. Miss is—and has been for a long time—attracted to the slow collapse of industrial forms as they are overtaken by “nature,” but she doesn’t only document the kinds of aestheticized, entropic unions we’ve come to understand as instances of Smithson’s “new monuments.” Miss’s subjects also include sites and architectural forms that assert their continued use-value (and thus their upkeep), such as a set of bleachers hovering over an empty sports track or a brimming aqueduct cutting through land.

But even more striking than Miss’s emphasis on such different kinds of landscape is her rewriting of them. Moving beyond one-point perspective, Miss extracts from her photographs something akin to what she likes to extract from the sites she works on and in: a kind of ungraspable spread. Standing in front of, say, the artist’s “photo/drawing” of a sagging bare-bones wood structure in Naples, one is suddenly aware that it’s impossible to place oneself in the picture, but that there is also no way out of it. Having taken multiple shots of the site, Miss then cuts up and reassembles the resulting photographs—both subtracting from and adding to our idea of what should be there. The result is a woozy topology, surprisingly affective for its straightforward mode of production (there is no attempt to hide the de- and re-assembly) and in its results (the pictures no longer “make sense” because our eyes can’t master them; they afford a kind of optical wandering instead). Unwieldy and graceful, Miss’s photo/drawings—like her earlier work, if by different means—harness our attention but won’t let it settle.

Johanna Burton