Robert Grosvenor at Paula Cooper
February 5 – March 6, 2010
534 W 21st Street
New York City, 10011 212.255.1105
With Robert Grosvenor’s inclusion in the 2010 Whitney Biennial, it was no surprise that his long time dealer would have an exhibition of the artist’s works. Although the pieces are older and few in number, it turns out that three sculptures by Robert Grosvenor from his middle period are the right amount to command the exhibition space at Paula Cooper’s expansive Chelsea gallery. The works, all untitled as is the norm for this seminal minimalist, are dated from 1986/87, 1991, and 1994. Large in scale, but not monumental per se, they are each assemblages of found industrial materials comprising concrete, steel, plastic, fiberglass, and in some cases, paint. Such use of found materials by Grosvenor is expected.
What was unexpected is the vitality these works still convey so many years after their inception. Undeniably, our impressions of artworks modify over time, especially as they slip free from the dialog that swaddled them at the moment of their creation and the work’s truly intrinsic aspects come into greater focus. Sometimes this is for the better and sometimes for the worse. This might be all the more the case with a fierce anti-Romantic like Grosvenor who actively shuns the use of metaphor in any discussion of his work. For instance, when a word like “sanctuaries” has been mentioned in relationship to these works, the artist has pointed to the canopy shapes as only “structurally interesting”. Even more to the point, in a 2006 interview in Pasatiempo, Grosvenor responded to the question “Do you intend (your work) to be emotive?” with “What more can it be than just something to look at? What more can it be?” Well, in the case of his work, quite a lot.
Confronting Grosvenor’s sculptures in the Cooper space is to confront far more than a slab of discarded concrete under a sheet of bent metal. If, in fact, this was merely a stack of industrial detritus it could not hold the room as these works do; or claim a surrounding space, a personal space, as these works most unequivocally do. In short, ordinary inanimate objects do not, as Grosvenor’s works do, emanate persona.
Take the earliest work in the exhibition, Untitled, 1986-87, which has the aforementioned concrete slab and metal canopy. The slab — really a grouping of cinder blocks arranged in an irregular rectangle — rests on a blue plastic tarp, its folds from being stored still prominent. The canopy, corrugated, curved and dilapidated, stands awkwardly atop four green metal fence posts that seem to just barely support the weight of this makeshift roof. Completing the assemblage, metal disks resembling nothing as much as cartoon wheels, are attached, one each, to the bottom of each support post and a small additional rectangular piece of corrugated metal sits precariously atop the canopy. So, one could, factually, refer to this literally as a pile of junk. But that would not even begin to describe the experience of the piece. So plentiful and powerful are the visual triggers, specific emotive notes can be asserted to exist as assuredly as one lists the materials: the tenuous legs, the impotent wheels, the protective cover, the careful placement of the concrete, the intimate scale relationship between the various objects. As open-ended as it may be, the desire to offer protective shelter is implied. A human form is referenced and, a poignant, soulful, narrative is evoked.