(Foreground) Lynda Benglis Untitled, ca. 19687 x 50 x 59 inches, Pigmented polyurethane foam Courtesy of the artist and Cheim & Read, New York (right) William Anastasi, One gallon high-gloss enamel paint, poured, 1966, Dimensions variable, Enamel paint, Courtesy of the artist. (center) Tom Burr, Coffee Table (Smoked), 2002, 2 parts: (1) 42 x 63 x 14 inches, (2) 42 x 63 x 18 inches, Lacquered wood, Plexiglas, Courtesy of the artist and Bortolami Gallery, New York; assistance from Galerie Neu, Berlin (left background) Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (Plaster Table), 1995/1996, 28-3/4 x 126-3/4 x 24 inches, Plaster, Collection Miami Art Museum, promised gift of Lin Lougheed (background right) Katharina Grosse, Untitled, 2009, Dimensions variable, Acrylic paint, soil, Styrofoam, Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica, CA.
The title of this exhibition asks us to contemplate an illusive factuality or contingency that space is a tangible phenomenon. A phenomenon that is made manifest through various art practices or strategies. Accompanying the exhibition is an insightful essay written by the exhibitions curator Rene Morales. Morales’s essay sets a contextual stage from which we still view much art today. The essay also concisely explains the relatively recent historical change in exhibition space which once dominated places like New York’s upper east side. This gradual change evolved from the enduring look and feel of intimate European like salon space, to much larger industrial space. These new forms of exhibition space quickly reshaped the exhibitors landscape. At first this change of venue made use of existing real estate eventually leading to new architecturally designed buildings whose sole purpose was to exhibit art. This new post industrial landscape is where most institutional art conversations takes place today.
This exhibition at MAM is modest in size, yet the 13 works included in the exhibition make it abundantly clear that a much larger conversation is under foot.
This article is not a review but instead can be viewed as like an addendum, preface or merely just engaging in the exhibitions conversation. In addition to what is already said in the exhibition’s catalog I ask you to revisit four philosophical positions regarding space. Three are traditional theories and one is an alternative. By analyzing these theories we can explore a deeper sense of how we engage with these works, other works and works yet to be made. I also ask, while sizing up each of the following theories, that you imagine each of the 13 works possible relationship or overlapping relationship to each theory or better yet how each of the works possibly overlaps more than one or more theories posited here.
Ryan Gander, Errata tossed back to the horizon, 2008, 60 x 48 inches, Chromogenic print, Courtesy of the artist and Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam.
To begin, I recall the three traditional theories concerning space. These three are followed by a 4th–an alternative: The three traditional views are: The Absolute theory of space, the Relational theories of space and Kant’s theory of subjective space. The fourth involves actions and Temporality in space.
The Absolute theory of space holds that a uniform structure exists throughout space. Its homogeneous structure exists independently of objects, entities, or us. This independent framework is what gives positions to objects and objects in motion as well to relative space within space. This sense of space can be imagined as an arena or a universal container.
I can locate several of the exhibited works in this theory. But a few works stand out as better examples perhaps by fitting less into the other theories. For example the work by Ryan Gander (his Chromogenic print) frames 2 – D space which has already framed a space from another location and itself is framed by this institution. Sandback’s work also fits neatly into this category for he (his installer) frames a volume of space set inside the institution that’s set in Miami, that’s set enframed by the state of Florida’s border and so out we go. Katharina Grosse’s pile of painted dirt fills this niche as well as the painted wall hints at a homogenous spacial structure that is a non ending structural space.
(Left) Fred Sandback, Untitled (Sculptural Study, Two-part Black Corner Construction)1975/2008, Black acrylic yarn, Dimension variable, The Estate of Fred Sandback, Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York (center) Charles Ray, Ink Box, 1986, 36 x 36 x 36 inches, Steel, ink, Collection of the Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA; museum purchase with additional funds provided by Edward R. Broida (right) Ryan Gander, Errata tossed back to the horizon, 2008, 60 x 48 inches, Chromogenic print, Courtesy of the artist and Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam.
The Relational theory of space denies that space exist without objects, entities or us. Relationists hold that space is no more than a relation between objects, entities, and us. The Relationists do not posit an absolute space and hold that there is no space without objects. Yet despite the differences between the Absolute and the Relationalist, they both assume that space has some kind of physical or objective presence in reality.
Toba Khedoori, Born Sydney, Australia 1964, lives Los Angeles, Untitled (Doors), 1999, 138 x 191-1/2 inches, Oil and wax on paper, Private Collection, New York and Regen Projects, Los Angeles.
It is fairly easy to lump most all the works in this exhibition in to this theoretical square hole. However I would like to mention four: Tom Burr’s Coffee Table(s) relate to each other well and squeeze tight the space between themselves and my patience as they capture a bit of Donald Judd’s Minimal space in doing so. Eugenio Espinoza’s, Symmetry, a painted and and manipulated wall teetering on a stool (image not available) relate their points of interest with a tinge of anxiety as the work seems to be both part of the wall and part of our space–being multidimensional, haphazardly stacked and ready to fall. Toba Khedoori’s, Untitled (Doors) relate to each other and the choice we would have to make between the two ways in or out. Khedoori’s doors also illuminate several spaces in the work that expand toward us. As well Simon Starling’s, Nachbau (Reconstruction), gelatin prints give us a view of remade space as he comments on our own mortality. By photographically documenting a reconstructed 3 – D set of a photographically archived exhibit space he shows us a relational window, through which we too can imagine in time, the possibility of this exhibition eventually becoming an archived remade itself–which points towards our own demise and rebirth. Rachel Whiteread’s plaster table has all the ingredients to solidify the plausible theory of objective form–exhibiting the solid form between the legs while exhibiting the missing form of the actual legs.
(Left) Charles Ray, Ink Box, 1986, 36 x 36 x 36 inches, Steel, ink, Collection of the Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA; museum purchase with additional funds provided by Edward R. Broida (right) Katharina Grosse, Untitled, 2009, Dimensions variable, Acrylic paint, soil, Styrofoam, Courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica, CA.
Immanuel Kant’s subjective theory of space contrasts the previous two theories. With Kant’s theory we arrive at the claims that space is subjective. He claimed that space is an a priori feature of our intuition but not a part of an outside physical reality independent of the mind. For Kant’s subjective space is the way in which we mentally bracket and re-present things given to us from an outer sense. Space is what we add to extended things. To Kant it is from the human perspective that we can speak of space and experience extended things. Without human subjectivity as witness, space has no representational value whatsoever.
Intuitively I prioritize Charles Ray’s Ink Box, as an enigma as much as it clearly highlights an institutional white cube conversation as obvious as night and day. But surprise! In addition to this academic exercise is added the stealthy and uncanny comment which makes me think Ray is one clever fellow. His work most succeeds by hiding a written critique of Kant’s subjectivity in voluminous amounts of always wet ink. It is the Ink that will never dry in the form of a written contract with Kant, signed by any artist or philosopher again. It is as if we subjectively dare think Kant’s subjective theory correct, or our mind will most certainly be stained black forever. That’s enough said about Kant. Ray’s black ink says more than enough about the dark age of Kantian enlightenment.
William Anastasi, One gallon high-gloss enamel paint, poured, 1966, Dimensions variable Enamel paint, Courtesy of the artist.
Another theory of space is that which counters the shared assumption of the first three theories: that space is the metaphysical dichotomy of subjective and objective. Hence the fourth theory looks for the condition of the dichotomy of how subject / object comes to our minds and how these conditions bring forth the concept of both subjective and objective space. This approach describes spatial modes of being as the potential for the human condition–for action is the role for the condition of experience in space.
This alternative argument undermines Kant’s notion of space as a mental a priori construction by not viewing space as an instantiation or a hypostatized form. By actively being in the world, we experience space rather than think it. By being engaged in the familiarity of the everyday, we can analyze the spatial aspects of our everyday experiences as pre-reflexive; as the action of moving, walking, reaching for things.
The three spatial modes for being are “De-severance (to bring closer), directionality, and regionality (contextual activity) are three ways of describing the spatiality of a unified Being-in-the-world. Hence we deconstruct the subject object conception of space by understanding that it is the everyday coping in the world that is ultimately presupposed in our grasp of space, both subjective and objective. This primordial action gives us the ability to construct the abstract notion of the subjective / objective.
(Foreground, right) Nicolas Lobo, Terrazzo Glide Slope, 2008, 6 x 96 x 8 inches, Terrazzo, felt Courtesy of the artist (left, rear) Fred Sandback, Untitled (Sculptural Study, Two-part Black Corner Construction), 1975/2008, Black acrylic yarn, Dimension variable, The Estate of Fred Sandback, Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York. (right rear) Ryan Gander, Born Chester, UK 1976, lives London, Errata tossed back to the horizon, 2008, 60 x 48 inches, Chromogenic print Courtesy of the artist and Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam.
In this final theory I place Nick Lobo’s Terrazzo Glide Slope in the spatial aspect of the directional mode of being in space. This work could fit into an absolute theory model if viewed as static space. Instead this work works best in a theory of space that exemplifies directional action. The type of space Lobo is showing us is a space that is the condition for tightly organized flight paths–in or out of controlled air space. Without a particular regional activity (piloting air craft) this space would most likely be natures non space or perhaps the space would serve another regionality involving something like an office tower or condo. Also in this alternative space of action I pace Lynda Benglis’s untitled work, which retains the traces of the human presence as evidenced in the ooze of pigmented polyurethane foam that maintains a faux primordial flow. This work which was first set in motion, in 1968, still flows well up through the contemporary art world’s floor-holding its own still well into 2009 and beyond. Wade Guyton on the other hand brings to play in U sculpture , a relational space that activates an anti-logocentric conversation favoring the example of the written over that of the spoken word. What goes on here is good example of Heidegger’s spatial mode of deseverence (drawing an entity near). U Sculpture, engages us as it reflects our presence as we draw ourselves nearer to ourselves and U.
Wade Guyton, U Sculpture (v. 2), 2005, 39-1/4 x 18 x 16-1/2 inches, Mirrored stainless steel, Collection of Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz.
Last but, and by far, not least is William Anastasi’s, One Gallon high-gloss enamel paint, poured. This piece, like all the works in this exhibition deserve more than what can be said here. Never the less, Anastasi’s work epitomizes maintaining the illusion of kinetic action. Just staring at the simplicity of his line offers up the spectre of the gentleman prankster who pours instead of sprays his signature tag on an elegant wall. One can stand by the line which divides proud space. As well one can image a misstep as a painted foot tracks printed steps of disaster over a gallery floor while looking back at read tracks thinking they are part of the show–In other words Anastasi’s painted hindsight. According to Mr Anastasi, he has enjoyed watching a viewer or two unwittingly engaged by walking through spilled paint before.
Artist and title list:
1. William Anastasi, One gallon high-gloss enamel paint, poured, 1966
2. Lynda Benglis, Untitled, ca. 1968, (Pigmented polyurethane foam)
3. Tom Burr, Coffee Table (Smoked), 2002 (Lacquered wood, Plexiglas)
4. Eugenio Espinoza, Symmetry, 2009 (photo not available)
5. Ryan Gander, Errata tossed back to the horizon, 2008 (Chromogenic print)
6. Katharina Grosse, Untitled, 2009, (Dimensions variable, Acrylic paint, soil, Styrofoam)
7. Wade Guyton, U Sculpture (v. 2), 2005, (Mirrored stainless steel)
8. Toba Khedoori, Untitled (Doors), 1999, (Oil and wax on paper)
9. Nicolas Lobo, Terrazzo Glide Slope, 2008 , (Terrazzo, felt Charles Ray, Ink Box, 1986, (Steel, ink)
10. Charles Ray, Ink Box, 1986 (Black steel box filled with ink)
11. Fred Sandback, Untitled (Sculptural Study, Two-part Black Corner Construction), 1975/2008 (Black acrylic yarn)
12. Simon Starling, Nachbau (Reconstruction), 2007, (Four silver gelatin prints)
13. Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (Plaster Table), 1995/1996 (Plaster).
Space as Medium (Nov 20, 2009 thru Feb 28, 2010) curated by Rene Morales is one of three exhibitions currently on view at Miami Art Museum.
This post was contributed by Richard Haden.