New York

“6 Works, 6 Rooms”

Six works in six rooms. A totally simple and modest curatorial idea, yet also a vainglorious one when the six works are by Dan Flavin, On Kawara, Sol LeWitt, John McCracken, Fred Sandback, and Richard Serra and the six rooms are sufficiently immense (David Zwirner’s cavalcade of Nineteenth Street galleries, here put to perfectly minimal use). And though the language of the show’s press materials stressed the experiential possibilities afforded by such sequestering—“the individual works in the exhibition uniquely activate the spaces in which they are installed . . . through light (Flavin); reflection (McCracken); gravity (Serra); void/presence (Sandback); conceptually (LeWitt); or contemplatively (Kawara)”—the overall effect proved art-historical and phenomenological in equal measure.

One of three corner works, Flavin’s shrieking fluorescent monument 4 for those who have been killed in ambush (to P.K. who reminded me about death), 1966, for example, is a massive crossbow armature that saturated the otherwise drained and dimmed space with its signal red hue. But having been shown first in the context of the Jewish Museum’s seminal 1966 “Primary Structures” show, and at Max’s Kansas City thereafter, it also bespeaks a very specific history—likewise redolent in its titular homage to men killed in Vietnam. LeWitt’s Wall/Floor Piece (“Three Squares”), 1966, another wryly formal primary structure, this time three identical squares in white lacquered steel that imply a cube, couldn’t help but be equally—if differently—elegiac given the artist’s recent death and the savvy juxtaposition with one of Kawara’s “Date Paintings,” JUNE 19, 1967, his epic meditation on the passage of time.

Serra’s looming lead Corner Prop, 1969, rounded out the greatest hits, similarly foregrounding these sculptures’ reliance upon their physical and institutional supports (an old story by now, though one perhaps differently relevant in the newly shuttered swaths of a High Line–ified district, where boutiques proliferate and luxury condos sidle up to the elevated park, consummating a local transformation begun nearly a decade ago). Next door, in Zwirner’s second space, McCracken’s Swift, 2007, an ultrashiny monolith that mirrors its surroundings in its polished bronze surface, ferried such historicizing into the present, and not just because of its recent vintage. Sandback’s Untitled (Sculptural Study, Five-part Construction), 1987/2009, one freestanding square and four rectangles composed from black acrylic yarn, made good—best—on the premise, swelling to fill the given space with paradoxically careful temerity. In short, its solo room felt totally compulsory, its claim obligatory and equal to its ambition for integration into what Sandback referred to as “pedestrian space.”

If this sounds like a familiar conceit done justice by means of ample—even surplus—legroom, the inevitably looming shadow of Dia might be to blame. (As critic Karen Rosenberg put it in the New York Times, the combination at Zwirner of “sprawling real estate and a cache of 1960s and ’70s art . . . also reminds you, in this season of ghosts, what Chelsea lost when Dia left the neighborhood.”) Of course, this is an issue of style, too, though the point obtains that not many spaces can compete with the sublimity of Dia:Beacon’s 240,000 square feet, not even the dwarfed Dia of old. At the time of Beacon’s opening, Hal Foster asked whether “Dia:Beacon [might] constitute a Hudson River School II, with aesthetic contemplation reworked as perceptual intensity on an industrial scale.” “6 Works, 6 Rooms” seemed to answer in the affirmative—but in the most baleful of voices.

Suzanne Hudson