Successive Approximation: Tauba Auerbach, Daniel Buren, Sol Lewitt, Mike Quinn and Robin Rhode
Perry Rubenstein Gallery,
New York City
January 10 to February 16, 2008
In the process that Ernst Gombrich dubbed “making and matching” the painter makes a naturalistic picture by gradually matching his representation to the visual world. Speaking, analogously, of “successive approximation” this show presents five artists who in stages achieve some desired degree of accuracy in their problem-solving. In Gombrich’s favorite eras, there were immensely productive links between science and visual art. Uccello and Piero della Francesca drew essentially upon the new Renaissance developments in perspective. And Constable and his contemporaries were fascinated with optics. But nowadays most visual artists are more interested in exploring the implications of mathematics or the sciences, which they understand very subjectively, than in making truthful representations.
In Tauba Auerbach’s video Telephone (2007) a phrase is whispered from person to person around in a small circle, so that it is transformed by the time it comes back to the starting point. Following the subtitles, you see the stages in which the original words change, with only traces of their original sense preserved. And herThe Answer/Wasn’t Here (Anagram VII) (2007) writes out those words in varied colors running left to right, then right to left from top to bottom. Mike Quinn’s March Mad Addition Descent (2007) shows 31 framed panels about New York Times’ coverage of basketball, with these collages climbing up the wall in a graceful arc, as if mapping the trajectory of a ball heading towards the hoop. Like the athletes whose feats he chronicles, Quinn thus shows the pleasures and fatigue of pursuing an obsession. Robin Rhode’s Untitled, Bottles (2005) is a ten minute, nine second video showing him drawing bottles on a wall. He’s dressed informally, drawing freehand and working outdoors, but his meticulous procedure has obvious affinities with those involved in the creation of sinopia, the fresco underdrawings of Renaissance masters. So too, does his Shell Drawing 2 (2007), an all-over image, made employing a shell with charcoal and spray paint on paper. These young artists are joined by two grand senior figures: Sol Lewitt, whose Pyramide MH 13 (1991) approximates that ideal shape, and Daniel Buren, whose Peinture Acrylique Blanche sur tissu raye blanc et vert (1972) applies acrylic on a white and green striped canvas.
Too often group exhibitions, especially those that mix together young artists and famous figures, fail to reveal elective affinities. This tight small show, however, revealed that these nine very different looking works of art all shared a genuine concern with successive approximation. And in doing that, it also displayed the totally unexpected relationship of these contemporary works of art with the traditions of old master painting. Just as Cimbue and Constable, whose images are so different, do making and matching, so for Auerbach, Buren, LeWitt, Quinn and Rhode one act of making follows another, to quote from the gallery handout, “until the unknown becomes known, until the work reveals itself.” Gombrich was very often criticized for his lack of sympathy with contemporary art. How fascinating, then, to see that what he identified as this mainline European tradition continues. With one interesting change: none of the five artists in exhibition create naturalistic images. Where earlier painters used successive approximation to make figurative images, Auerbach, Buren, LeWitt, Quinn and Rhode are interested in what might be called the poetry of visual problem solving.