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Charles Gaines, Regression: Drawing #4, Group #2, 1973–74, mechanical pen on paper, 24 3/4 × 30 3/4". From the series “Regression,” 1973–74.

Charles Gaines

The Studio Museum in Harlem

Charles Gaines, Regression: Drawing #4, Group #2, 1973–74, mechanical pen on paper, 24 3/4 × 30 3/4". From the series “Regression,” 1973–74.

As became evident in “Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974–1989,” a dense yet elegantly presented exhibition curated by Naima J. Keith, the artist’s early works employ rules to systematically manipulate forms in such a way that the underlying systems cannot be inferred from their appearance. Suggesting the influence of both John Cage and Sol LeWitt, the series “Regression,” 1973–74, for example, features permutations of a roughly triangular abstract form that have been marked out in numbered squares on gridded paper; mathematically derived from an unidentified “specific formula,” the shape morphs from sheet to sheet according to criteria that I can’t succeed in reconstructing. There is some basic information that is retained through the transformations from state to state, but while its presence can be intuited, its nature cannot be easily comprehended by the viewer (though I wonder

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