10.16.17 — Massive or Spare?

Was Minimalism massive or spare? Was it an art of big boxes and steel plates—or bare lines and empty rooms?

How about none of the above? For Kazuko Miyamoto, it could could hold the wall or spin out across a gallery. Dating from a time of industrial materials, it could insist on the handmade, the irregular, the repetitive, or the imagination. Work from the late 1960s through 1980, at Zürcher through October 22, helps recover a woman in abstraction for today. Kazuko Miyamoto's Star Piece, 9th Precinct (Zürcher, 1979)

Born in Tokyo, Miyamoto came to New York in 1964 to be a painter. She studied at the Art Students League, already past its prime as a nurturer of Abstract Expressionism. Like others then, she retained broad brushwork, while stripping down to simpler geometries. She also began to engage the wall. Maroon on black from 1969 resembles brickwork, like paintings by Sean Scully, but as Progression of Rectangles. From that point on, she treats the art object as a solid, but also as a source of optical activity and motion.

Massive and spare went together in those days, much as work by Carl Andre kept to the floor under its own weight. When Frank Stella turned the wood of his stretchers sideways, so that it comes further out from the wall, he insisted that painting can bear weight, too. When Richard Serra flung lead, he had begun to spill out into space as well, but one had sure better get out of his way. When Richard Tuttle bisected a gallery in thread or Sol LeWitt drew a dizzying array of lines, they were making wall paintings. Rosalind E. Krauss included all these artists in a legendary show of “Line as Language,” at Princeton University in 1974, along with Mel Bochner, Robert Morris, and Dorothea Rockburne. Miyamoto should have one seeing the line as much as the wall or the language.

She had already discovered a concern for line in LeWitt. They had studios in the same building in 1968, along with Adrian Piper, and met outside during a fire alarm. (She still lives on the Lower East Side at age seventy-five, and she exhibited nearby at Invisible-Exports in 2014.) As a studio assistant, she worked on his wall paintings and open cubes. She began to incorporate parallel marks into her drawings, including grids of dabbed ink and plus signs, too. They may allude to traditional Japanese calligraphy and the game of Go as well.

Galleries and museums have been looking for parallels to Minimalism in other nations, such as Grupo Frente in Brazil and Mono-ha in Japan. They have also been seeing these movements as sites of personal expression and gendered identity. (Hélio Oiticica, a gay from Brazil, spent the 1970s in New York.) Gender enters Miyamoto’s art with a break from the wall. She described dense arrays of string nailed to the wall and floor, from 1974 and 1978, as female and male, and do not go thinking of the “purity” of white as female or blackness as male. The show includes recreations of both.

They build on her drawings, but they take their full shape only as one walks past them. They also nearly dissolve into light. Paper ladders hang instead from above. They recall Joan Miró or a rope ladder to the moon. The gallery accompanies the show with a Japanese poet’s tribute to Miyamoto, as if she lived only in memory. If her imagery is any indication, she has already moved on.

Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.

6.19.17 — Beyond the Fences

Merrill Wagner had a secret weapon in her paintings from the 1970s, their support. And if it is hard to keep a painting’s physical presence secret, that is precisely the point. Many make use of tape on Plexiglas. Another distances canvas from a stretcher to find new support, in the walls and floor, where three dark squares mark out a corner of the room, at Zürcher through June 24.

Like much of the tape and her brushwork, the squares have ragged edges, just in case one was tempted to overlook their presence. And it is tempting, just as one can write off Robert Ryman, whom she married, as the painter of white on white—forgetting his range of materials from canvas and metal plates Merrill Wagner's Outerbridge Crossing (photo by Jeffrey Sturges, New York Studio School, 1986)to the bolts holding them to the wall. For both artists, it takes looking at what lies right before one’s eyes.

Six months earlier, the New York Studio School made the background to painting inescapable—and I have wrapped this into my earlier report on its show as a longer review and my latest upload. That one spanned her career, including work from the 1980s on several panels, somewhere between painting, sculpture, and relief. It also included photos of fences in the New York metropolitan area, not so far from the verticals of cloth or masking tape. This show hones in instead on a crucial decade, when she turned thirty, making them together a fairer retrospective. It shows her as, first and foremost, a painter. No wonder it takes looking.

Wagner does not appear in “Making Space,” a survey of women in abstraction, but she could have appeared if only MoMA had taken more care to collect her. (She did appear there that very decade in a Christmas show.) She, too, is making and marking space, in line with the period’s emphasis on art as object. The verticals have their parallel, so to speak, in stripes by Frank Stella, the dark squares in Ad Reinhardt. A red square, for that matter, deepens into black. Even her forays out of doors have a parallel in the economy of plant studies by Ellsworth Kelly, back in Chelsea at Matthew Marks a door away from his last paintings through June 24.

For all that, she has little of their austerity—precisely what can tempt one to see only painting. One can come up close to watch the red vary and deepen, rather than wait for it to pop out of a near uniform blackness. One can stand back to compare its dimensions, brushwork, and tape marks with other colors set against uniform squares of Plexiglas. Not that they form a single work or even a series, but creative hanging invites a closer look. Paired yellow verticals look worn by earth or fire, while other works stick to competing fields and tones of black and gray. The show’s largest canvas stands alone, and its broader verticals dissolve at the edges like horizontal bands for Agnes Martin.

She is also not above illusion, as long as it can coincide with the literal. The corner piece looks at first like a translucent black cube, before falling back to canvas. It matters, though, that it still looks solid and painterly as loose fabric. It matters, too, that the weathering in earth tones on yellow depends on a combination of chance and her own hand. While other artists use tape to give geometry its clean edges before peeling it away, she uses it to mess things up. Where the fences make one aware of all her work as making space, here she is marking time.

Jill Moser marks time in abstraction, too, with a record of her art’s making. Twenty years younger than Wagner, she survived a long stretch of silkscreens and appropriation, when painting was out of fashion. She incorporates them into her work at that, along with oil on canvas. She, though, is appropriating only herself, in what can pass for painting, just recently at Lennon, Weinberg through June 17. Thin drips and curves contrast with underlying broader patches—and the opacity of the first with the translucency of the second, like passing showers in front of clouds. Together, they offer at least two versions of the definite or the ephemeral.

Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.