Los Angeles

Julian Hoeber, Execution Changes 19 (XS Q1 MJ LC Q2 RMJ LC Q3 MJ LC Q4 LMJ LC), 2011, acrylic and graphite on panel, framed, 62 1/2 x 44 1/2".

Julian Hoeber, Execution Changes 19 (XS Q1 MJ LC Q2 RMJ LC Q3 MJ LC Q4 LMJ LC), 2011, acrylic and graphite on panel, framed, 62 1/2 x 44 1/2".

Julian Hoeber

Julian Hoeber, Execution Changes 19 (XS Q1 MJ LC Q2 RMJ LC Q3 MJ LC Q4 LMJ LC), 2011, acrylic and graphite on panel, framed, 62 1/2 x 44 1/2".

If the gray-scale chart were given a sculptural physicality, it might well take the form of the nearly twenty-foot-long seating unit that sliced down the center of Blum & Poe’s upstairs gallery, forming Endless Chair, 2010–11, the centerpiece of Julian Hoeber’s recent exhibition. Built from bony slats of bolted-together plywood, this modular bench provided a direct (if less than comfortable) vantage onto the seven large abstract geometric canvases that comprise the artist’s “Execution Changes” series, 2010–. Viewers were permitted to sit on this protracted piece of furniture, prompting one to visualize how a body might also enter into the Op-ish pictorial space of each painting. And such a meditation proved useful when imagining the body’s relationship to a second sculpture in Hoeber’s show, His and Hers, 2011, a set of Shaker-inspired cradles, that, built to adult scale, could just as well be coffins on rockers.

In the artist’s past projects we have seen traces of Roy Lichtenstein, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, and Bridget Riley. But in this exhibition—which forgoes the visual mania of Hoeber’s 2008 works on paper or of his 2010 Demon Hill installation at the Hammer Museum, both of which exploited optical illusions to near nauseating ends—the historical precursors are Frank Stella and Sol LeWitt, sources that provided not visual tricks but conceptual games to direct compositional logic. With a nod to LeWitt and his famous system for drawing (or having someone else draw) serialized vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines, Hoeber has set up a process with highly selective rules for generating permutations of lines painted on horizontal, vertical, and quartered axes. As a result, a work such as Execution Changes 18 (HS Q1 LMJ DC Q2 LMJ DC), 2011, is presumably preset by its titular alphanumeric code, just one mathematical computation in a group of countless possibilities. However, the work also appears to formally quote Stella’s “Black Paintings,” 1958–60, as it is arranged around a strong left-to-right diagonal line, against which bands of muted color (subdued tones of gray, puce, charcoal, etc.) form complementary triangles. Hung just behind Endless Chair, eight more variations of “Execution Changes” (numbers 8 to 15) read as smaller and relatively cleaner studies for the larger paintings.

But Hoeber establishes these Conceptualist rules for his compositions only to depart from them wildly in color and surface treatment, executing change randomly. Leaving Stella and LeWitt behind, Hoeber covers his canvases with a loose application of thick paint that almost seems to mock the older artists’ fetish for flatness: Bloody splotches of red and pink are visible where the chiastic black-on-black painting has been scratched away; the volumetric edges of a gray and red concentric composition seem expressionistically (or maybe just compulsively) layered. In each work, the human hand is visible between the cracks in the cold, functional algorithmic form, complicating what would otherwise stand as a simple act of appropriation. And just as Hoeber’s bench begs for a body to activate it, his paintings require such human interruption to undermine their optical rationality.

In His and Hers, however, Hoeber shows that the human and the rational are not in fact so naturally opposed. Designed with an ascetic simplicity that LeWitt might have lusted over, the two coffinlike cradles have each been fitted with a top sheet and pillow needlepointed with yet more permutations of the geometric patterning seen in the paintings. Other reversals are also in play; with one cradle bearing a mainly blue-and-white color scheme, and the other a yellow-and-orange design, who’s to say which one is “his” and which is “hers”? (And this raises the larger questions of how and why certain colors come to be gendered in the first place.) The sculpture is surprisingly chilling, provoking the kind of discomfort that Hoeber is so skilled at producing, and offering a totally unexpected conceit for a show that might, at first glance, be dismissed for feigning primary structures. Here, the literal absence of a body seems linked to mortality; a memento mori of that ultimate rule in the logic of life.

Catherine Taft