New York

Tauba Auerbach

Deitch Projects

Tauba Auerbach hit the ground running a few years ago with a well-received debut at Deitch, followed by her recent participation in the New Museum’s “Younger Than Jesus” exhibition, and now this second buzzed-about show at the gallery—and she’s not yet thirty. Precociousness often keeps company with impatience, and on first look it seems Auerbach has dispensed with the concerns of her earlier work with typography, alphabets, and codes in favor of the even brainier bailiwicks of logic and physics. She, however, identifies a through-line: A previous interest in how language can embarrass and even violate its governing principles has developed into a preoccupation with what the show’s press release described as “the collapsing of two conflicting states.” Paintings, photographs, sculptures, and a musical instrument were marshaled into a meditation on the standoffs between, and ultimate implosion of, two- and three-dimensionality, pattern and accident, past and present.

This is heady territory (as a side project, Auerbach is designing mathematical symbols for a Cambridge University logician) that in exhibition format hazards a certain diffusion, as if she is road testing different theories, moving from one thought experiment to the next and from one medium to another in order to explore, for example, the copresence of order and chaos. It is thus all the more remarkable that these forays hang together, and that most of the resulting objects reward contemplative viewing. Exemplary in this regard is a set of six rectangular monochromes spray painted to look as if their canvases had been folded before being stretched. Trompe l’oeil effects of pleating and creasing, played out in a span of earth tones from rust to ocher to olive to black, are arrestingly beautiful, but equally provocative is the imparting of a temporal dimension to the stalemate between painterly illusionism and modernist frontality: Resolutely two-dimensional surfaces trumpet their flatness even as they summon a previous three-dimensional state. Related visual high jinks animate a pair of works from Auerbach’s 2008–2009 “Crumple Paintings” series, allover expanses of halftone dots that coalesce, from afar, into images of crinkled sheets of paper—Op art that acknowledges its own fugitive tactility.

Eight large up-close photographs of television-screen static corroborate the thesis that form can emerge, unanticipated, from naught. Grainy motifs, including a houndstooth design in Static 14 (all works 2009) and wavy, full-spectrum strata in Static 11, materialize from what should be random fields of scrambled (or absent) analog signals. The notion of inexplicable relatedness also underpins a two-part sculpture (Entanglement), a black orb comprising three flat, intersecting disks that hung outside the gallery, and a rod, suspended from the ceiling indoors, that terminates in a blazing light. Their oscillations are synced, illustrating the marvel of separate photons that appear to communicate with each other across distances.

If the sheer visual intrigue of Auerbach’s art offsets its cerebral aspects, an additional sensate element was provided by Auerglass, a custom-built, two-person wooden pump organ created by the artist and Cameron Mesirow (of the band Glasser), who every afternoon of the exhibition’s run performed a melancholic, ruminative, and semi-improvised composition that seemed made to order for our moment. The instrument has a de facto contrapuntal quality—each player’s keyboard has alternating notes of a four-octave scale, the wind for which is supplied by the other’s pumping—that rounds out the show’s both/and themes.

A while back, an interviewer asked Auerbach what reaction she hoped to elicit in viewers. Her reply, “confusion and then clarity,” locates her work, rightly so, on the sunny side of Ed Ruscha’s distinction between bad art (which prompts a “Wow! Huh?” response) and good (which yields “Huh? Wow!”). But Auerbach took the exchange a step further, betraying a restive curiosity worth monitoring in the years to come; the last part of her answer was, “—and then confusion again.”

Lisa Turvey