A few weeks back I went and saw Brice Marden: Graphite Drawings at Matthew Marks as well as Ad Reinhardt at David Zwirner. The Ad Reinhardt show at Zwirner has been much praised and it was mentioned in the recent New Yorker piece on the dealer. For those of you who have seen a Reinhardt Black Painting you know what they are and what they are capable of. They shift color in front of your eyes and seem to absorb light. There is more in the show besides the Black Paintings, but lets stick with that for now. Zwirner has assembled 13, an extraordinary number considering their rarity and their very fragile nature. If it were an olympic event, the judges would give Zwirner a 9.5, primarily for the level of difficulty. Rather than describe the Blackness and color shift, let me describe the matte surface. It looks brushless, sprayed on, but it’s not. Reinhardt poured the oil off his house paint after it was settled and when the minimum amount of oil and pigment would bind together he used that. The final product is as close to pure blackness as a painting could hope to be. You have until December 18th to see them.
Marden’s Graphite drawings are completely different. The sheen of the graphite built up on the sheet varies, but mostly it is so dark it is reflective. These are wet asphalt black. There are grids and geometric patterns but the richness of these is the black. Marden’s swirling lines are what he became best known for but these blocky minimal pieces from the same period of time as the Reinhardt Black Paintings are the best of what early minimalism has to offer. Marks has a museum quality show here that has gotten no press as far as I can tell. You have until December 21st to see them .
The Robert Ryman show at Pace this fall was the show I wish I had reviewed. Since I work with his prints I felt it was wrong some how. Now that the show is gone, I feel I can say it was easily my favorite show this year. His No Title Required 3, a series of 10 white glossy panels of different sizes with dark blue sides seemed to me the perfect end of the arc of Minimalism. Reinhardt and Marden’s blackness, created in the 60’s and Ryman’s whiteness, created in the past few years exist in the same way. Ryman built a structure by which his group of panels are an environment. The light affects them (Ryman does not use direct artificial light in this or nearly any installation) greatly. The dark sides give the work a dark halo. You can see their weight and depth, even sense it. To many these white panels will never be anything more and maybe that is the greatest argument for their existence. The are certainly speaking the language of art, in the rarefied air of art, but what they are is all that they are. Panels with paint, beautiful or not, will always be panels with paint. Minimalism breeds this questioning that has become second nature to our discussion of art. I know that this conversation will continue, in word and in deed, even after its primary champions are filed away as masters in the history books. The questions of minimalism remain essential.
John Yau recently took Wade Guyton, Jacob Kassay and Sarah Morris to task for ripping off Minimalism. Or rather, using it in an ironic way (Kassay primarily) or as a trope to inject design into (Guyton and Morris). Though I don’t agree with all three of these particular examples I agree with the notion that the look of minimalism is played for effect often and poorly. Though I said above that I believed Ryman’s work may have served as an endpoint for minimalism, this does not mean that minimalism should be dead. Rather it is to say that Ryman may have given us an objective at one end of the spectrum. One that matches Reinhardt and Marden in it’s purity of color but exceeds them in form.
– Jeff Bergman December 2013