New York

“Stubborn Materials”

“After innovation—the critical deluge; after the deluge—fashion; after fashion—the group show; after the group show (and its coverage by mass media)—criticism of criticism. These episodes replace each other rapidly on the art scene today, crowding good and bad art alike off the stage in preparation for the next act.” The words, Lucy Lippard’s, are from 1966, but they couldn’t feel less dated. The banality of most group shows, compounded with their inevitably short shelf lives, makes a good one—summer or otherwise—that much more arresting. “Stubborn Materials,” curated by gallery director Simone Subal, was one such show, especially because its strategy seemed to be to deter cursory scanning by assembling works that subvert presumptive meaning. Resisting gimmicky double takes in favor of earnest wit born of happenstance accumulations (and savvy juxtapositions of unspectacular supplies), the works gives the impression that their details count

Less a look (or in Lippard’s terms, fashion) than a set of sympathetic, willfully refractory tendencies, the works, representing nine New York–based artists—Larry Bamburg, Jonah Freeman and Michael Phelan, Nick Herman, Rosy Keyser, Jutta Koether, Ian Pedigo, and Heather Rowe—suggest a kind of DIY formalism. Process-driven abstraction reigns, with stuff culled from the aisles of Home Depot (house paint, vinyl, insulation foam, wallpaper, mirrored glass) and the pages of old magazines. Keyser’s Sad White Music, 2007, an orb of house paint on a sawdust-encrusted canvas support, and Smithson, 2007, a collage of enamel and paillettes on a blown-up 1970s copy of Smithsonian Magazine with a rope-harnessed rain-forest biologist swinging above a verdant canopy on its cover that becomes the painting’s ground, exemplify both operations.

Reclaimed debris, while hardly localized, is a crux for Pedigo: Blind, blocks, 2007, comprises a straw beach mat and newsprint collaged on a wall, while the forlorn Structure Left Remaining, 2006, features a marked-up block of foam fixed atop a spindly bamboo tripod. Or take Bamburg’s Untitled Variable, 2007, a jerry-rigged marriage of fishing wire and ceiling fans that whirl at different speeds, sweeping detritus—here a Band-Aid, there a cricket—dangling from their nearly invisible filaments, into a quietly intense vortex that cannot but echo the iconography of Keyser’s dangling scientist.

Appropriated and recontextualized, substances are less obdurate and more duplicitous in Herman’s cultural archaeology. A polyurethane cast of a rock shimmers as though it were metal in Part, 2007; feathers are cut from magazines in Blind, 2007, and so on. (Seen against Freeman and Phelan’s large-scale print of its titular substance, Reynolds Wrap Aluminum Foil #22, 2007, and its pendants, which recall scholar’s rocks as much as the abstract photographs of James Welling, the material conceit really works.) A narrativized play on deception, Halves, 2007, likewise makes Herman’s point with its toy-derived, albeit now life-size, plaster casts of half a wolf and half a sheep facing off across the gallery, balancing as feebly and elegantly as Pedigo’s poles. Meanwhile, Koether’s liquid glass–drenched inverted triangle #3, 2006, rebuffs advances or circumscriptions.

But Rowe’s Plans that have fallen through, 2006, an homage to the faceted dome of Weimar architect Bruno Taut’s Glass Pavilion at the 1914 Cologne Werkbund Exhibition, reimagined through flocked wallpaper tracery and a wooden platform buttressing a tinted glass lattice, might just be the work that best articulated the show’s position. Forgoing a modernist will to resistant autonomy in exchange for associative, and decidedly noncausal, relations to equally obstinate matter—and lost utopian causes—is the game. The word stubborn, then, might reference something hard to suppress as much as something capable of resistance. Perhaps, as Rowe’s work proposes, they are the same thing.

Suzanne Hudson