Liza Lou at L&M Arts
September 24 to December 13, 2008
45 East 78th Street, between Madison and Park avenues
New York City, 212 861 0020
Liza Lou does minimalism with political attitude. Tower (2008), which extends thirty feet upward, is a minimalist grid wrapped in white beads. Continuous Mile (2007-8), reminiscent of Jackie Windsor’s sculptures [see Jonathan Goodman’s review], sets beads on a menacing coil. Security Fence (2005-7) in the back gallery, with glass beads on steel, shows how security fences would look if Tiffany’s made them. And Maximum Security on the ground floor of Lever House, twenty some blocks downtown, also embodies that idea. Some years ago influential commentators claimed that minimalist sculpture was implicitly political. As if making explicit that interpretation, Lou’s titles and structures reveal how readily classical minimalist structures can embody political ideas. Lou’s wall hangings like Clear, Hold, Build (White) (2007-9), made of glass beads on aluminum, are upstairs. If she is trying to reference Muslim prayer rugs and comment on the obvious ways that many people are ambivalent about Islamic culture, as the gallery publicity claims, then these reliefs carry too much political baggage to be effective.
When in winter, 2007 L&M Arts showed David Hammons, everyone was aware of a certain aggressive tension. What we normally expect to find in that Eastside townhouse is upscale modernist art, the sort of paintings and sculptures purchased by people who wear furs. And so it was surprising to see Hammons’ relentless attack on ladies’ coats. But what better site for an attack on the lifestyle of the seriously rich than their home territory? There’s nothing new about that—since the Enlightenment, the grand bourgeoisie have been patrons for their critics. This exhibit extends that way of thinking. Just as Hammons burnt, painted and otherwise defaced furs, so Lou beautifies menacing security apparatus. You could learn a lot about the politics of public art by eavesdropping on the business people looking with bewilderment, at least when I was there, at Maximum Security. We all know that beautiful artifacts are grand commodities, and so have to be carefully guarded. But by making her sculptures beautiful and menacing, both at the same time, Lou brings home that contradiction. The name of the guard at L&M Arts who makes sure that you don’t touch her beads should be included in the check list for he, as much as the art on display, is part of the show.