Jo Baer, Dan Flavin, Sol LeWitt, Tony Smith
534 W 21st Street
NEW YORK—Minimalist sculpture and paintings from the 1960s to the 1980s by four major artists will be on view this fall at the Paula Cooper Gallery’s main space, 534 West 21st Street. The exhibition, consisting of works by Jo Baer, Dan Flavin, Sol LeWitt, and Tony Smith, will run from September 3 through October 12, 2002.
The earliest work in the show, Tony Smith’s Die (1962), is perhaps one of the most iconic Minimalist sculptures, despite Smith’s professed distance from minimalism’s cool aesthetic and his allegiances to an earlier generation of artists. The dimensions of the cube (6’x 6’x 6’) were inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s famous drawing of the Vitruvian Man—a man spread-eagle within a square and a circle meant to illustrate Vitruvius’s writings on the geometry of the human body. The scale of Die is therefore implicitly human (thus physically engaging the viewer) while its ambiguous title carries suggestive connotations of death and gambling.
By contrast, the process governing the creation of Four-Part Modular Cube (1975) was a simple, arbitrary system: in LeWitt’s modular structures, a basic measurement such as the length of a cube is halved, doubled or repeated in order to generate more shapes. The proportions (126” x 126” x 126”) exemplify LeWitt’s ideal of equivalence (as exact relations between identical elements), while visually the piece reads like a play between the numbers 2, 3 and 4. Unlike Die, with which it shares its pared-down geometry, LeWitt’s work is resolutely asymbolic and best seen as “continuous with its formulation” (Alloway), the carrying out in reality of a logical proposition.
Flavin’s pioneering use of light began in the early 60s, when he started affixing standard, unadorned fluorescent light fixtures directly to the wall. Untitled (fondly to Margo) (1986), a combination of cool white, daylight white, and warm white fluorescent lights, displays the simple geometry and subtle color of Flavin’s best work. It was part of a group of seven related works first installed at the Margo Leavin Gallery in Los Angeles, and it is notable for using the circle, an infrequent shape in Flavins’ work. One effect of the piece is a tension, in which the subdued white color nuances play off of the whimsical design of the sculpture.
Jo Baer was a central figure in the Minimalist group, including Judd, Flavin, Mangold and LeWitt. Baer’s paintings fit snugly in an exhibition of sculpture, as many of them entertain a deliberate relationship with objecthood. Baer often hung her paintings low (thus evincing a sculptural attention to the ground). She would also paint the edges of the canvas (as in the “Wraparound” works) to suggest volumetric space. Here, Baer uses the diptych form, reinforcing the radical reduction of the work to basic elements of composition and color. The surface is uniformly painted, showing a simplified geometrical image with only a hint of color. Baer’s goal was “to make poetic objects that would be discrete yet coherent, legible yet dense.” Concurrently with this exhibition, Baer’s work from 1960 to 1975 is on view at the Dia center for the arts.
In the front room is a selection of drawings from the 1960s by Dutch artist Jan J. Schoonhoven (1914 — 1994), echoing the formal vocabulary of the other works on view.