New York

Peter Sacks

Paul Rodgers / 9W

Collage seems consigned to barely more than miniature. Its size would be a function of the width of newspaper columns, of the decorative patterns of wallpaper, of bus tickets and candy wrappers. Only Guernica broke with this scale of bits and scraps. It achieved mural dimensions by resorting to imitation: “newsprint” scattered over large planes through broken lines of black. Disdaining imitation, Peter Sacks achieves triptychs nearly fifteen feet wide by typing texts onto long rolls of linens of various kinds—winding sheets, shrouds, strips of prison shirts.

These textual scrolls overlie a mixture of fabrics and corrugated board, the whole given a luminous sheen by washes of white acrylic. Their surfaces radiate the character of monochromes steamrolling over the thickened oscillation of figure/ground. The texts in question vary from Daniel Paul Schreber’s Memoirs of My Nervous Illness (1903) and Aby Warburg’s 1923 “Lecture on Serpent Ritual,” both composed in mental asylums, to Rilke’s “Duino Elegies” of 1912–22 and the “Time Passes” section of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (1927). Forcing the viewer to linger over the surface, to which is attached various kinds of netting and lace, the columns of text produce something akin to Roland Barthes’s description in The Pleasure of the Text (1973) of the reader’s slowing down so as to experience the pleasure of the signifier against the pressure of racing toward narrative closure.

The open weave of the netting, meanwhile, brings to the surface the infrastructure of painting’s tightly woven canvas—another avatar of the signifier. In Necessity 8, 2007–2009, the mesh of textures doubles Schreber’s fantasy—typed on the work’s fabric—of being impregnated by the rays of God as these filaments attach themselves to his nerve endings. Such “interweavings” both thicken and lighten Sacks’s collages, which shimmer in their brave disdain for a mistaken identity as a form of Cubism. Just as Schreber’s memoir is rhymed with the mesh of fabric, Warburg’s example points to that massive collage of art-historical memory, his Mnemnosyne Atlas (1924–29). Memory is the infrastructure of Sacks’s collage, differentiating his concatenations of material from Robert Rauschenberg’s visual Combines.

The laces contrast with the corrugated surfaces as handcraft to industrial material. Necessity 10 opens the corrugations to resemble the typesetter’s “flatbed,” once more summoning forth the visual language of the texts. Swipes of black paint tar the corrugations into tire tracks, bringing Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) into the mnemonic mix. Kerouac, famously, typed his book on a single roll of paper. His manuscript is itself a road of verbiage, the medium made recursive. He writes, “As a seaman I used to think of the waves rushing beneath the shell of the ship and the bottomless deeps thereunder—now I could feel the road some twenty inches beneath me, unfurling and flying and hissing at incredible speeds across the groaning continent with that mad Ahab at the wheel. When I closed my eyes all I could see was the road unwinding into me.” Sacks’s “road” of text likewise unwinds into its viewers, producing what Barthes calls “the culture of the signifier” or “the moment when by its very excess, verbal pleasure chokes and reels into bliss.”

In addition to the collage series, the show included the monochromatic triptychs Necessity 9 and Necessity 4 (both 2003–2009). In each, a layer of acrylic covers the entire surface, not only obscuring the typed texts but burying its detail, except for remnants of the edges of fabrics. As with most monochromes (Robert Ryman’s heavy brushstrokes come to mind), there is in these “Necessities” a vis-à-vis between the surface of the paintings (the linens, the paintwork) and their canvas supports. This layering of two textures is what, in “The Origin of the Work of Art,” Heidegger calls hypokeimenon (or “the ground of the thing, something always already there”), and Derrida’s “Restitutions of the Truth in Pointing [Pointure]” renders as “the underneath of the underneath,” as when, in the infamous example of van Gogh’s painting of a pair of peasant shoes, Heidegger focuses on the sole of the shoe as the shoe’s support, in turn supported by the earth, just as the represented sole is also supported by the canvas ground. The monochrome insists—and Sacks adheres to this pictorial structure—that the primary underneath rise to the surface in all its newly won unity, which Heidegger describes as “this closed, unitary repose of self-support.”

Rosalind Krauss