Works to Inaugurate a Space

Works by: Vito Acconci, John Baldessari, Monica Bonvicini, Bruce Conner, Tony Conrad, Dan Flavin, Alex Hay, Donald Judd, Mike Kelley, Sol LeWitt, Richard Serra, Robert Smithson, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Keith Tyson, Christopher Wool

Curation by Thea Westreich Art Advisory Services

Text by Ethan Wagner

The first installation in the Art Cave, “Works to Inaugurate a Space,” curated by the Stones’ long-time art consultancy, Thea Westreich Art Advisory Services, presents interesting groupings that amplify the meaning of individual works, the intentionality of the artists and, as well, currents that run through the Stone collection. Rather than adhering to thematic, chronological or movement-based organization, the placement of the artworks in relation to each other fosters a rich dialogue between groupings that span four decades, three continents and varied aesthetics.

Seen from the entrance of the cave, Monica Bonvicini’s Caged tool #1 (hammer drill) is a good place to start, as much of Bonvicini’s work addresses the inherent gender bias of architecture by co-opting the Minimalist aesthetic and by using materials and objects related to construction. Here, a common tool, the hammer drill, is wrapped in black leather, transformed into a fetish object, and displayed on a simple pedestal of concrete blocks, another staple of the building industry. Contrasting this hard-edged sculpture is Rirkrit Tiravanija’s rainbow-hued tulle Magazine Station n. 2, Receiving Station. Where Bonvicini’s sculpture is aggressive, Tiravanija’s curtains invite the viewer to share in the architectural experience, quietly demarcating the space. The volume of Caged tool #1 and the weightlessness of Tiravanija’s piece are framed by the only curved wall in the cave, reminding the viewer of the cave’s mode of construction, further explicating the themes and intentions of each artist’s work.

The cave then opens into another gallery where Vito Acconci’s Adjustable Wall Bra anchors the installation and provides a conceptual frame for the works installed in the first large space that the viewer encounters. This brassiere-shaped sculpture can be configured in multiple ways and is tied to the architecture both literally and figuratively: it is attached by cables and bolts in standard fashion, but it can also be seen as being “worn” by the walls, a sensation heightened by the audio component—the sound of breathing. Further, the bra’s straps curl outward, embracing other artworks installed in the space both visually and conceptually.

The four nearby works by Mike Kelley—Shift, Antiqued and two photographs from the Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction series—key off of the playful nature of the Acconci bra, confounding the distinction between high and low, and further exploring culture, memory and performance. Dan Flavin’s the diagonal of May 25, 1963 (to Robert Rosenblum) is deceptive in its simplicity; essentially it is a readymade marked by a lack of artistic handiwork. The light’s cool color powerfully plays off of the architecture, commanding the space, including the surrounding artwork—almost theatrical in its own right. Finally, Christopher Wool is a bridge between the Acconci, the Flavin and the Kelleys. The joke of the title, Feet Don’t Fail Me Now, a tap dancer’s last thoughts before launching into crescendo, offers an amusing and informative consideration of Wool’s own ambitions to explore the full potentialities of art, from the exploration of rote mechanical process to the irregularities of individual markings.

The central part of the main gallery looks back to the major figures of the Minimalist and Conceptualist movements. Robert Smithson’s work, including Non-Site (Mica from Portland, Connecticut, 1968), explores geologic time while it also collapses the distinction between the point from which the materials originate and the location in which they are displayed. Serra’s Sculpture — Black Triangle echoes the pared-down geometrical form of Smithson’s sculpture, while Square Level Forged directly references the manner of its own construction: the two beams comprising this work evidence a pent-up energy between two conflicting yet evenly matched and dependent forces. An architecturally based work, this piece demonstrates Serra’s investigation of the themes of structural tension and the relationship of sculpture to architecture. Donald Judd, whose art emphasizes geometric form and seriality, also addresses this relationship, studying the ways in which the elements of sculpture, the intervening spaces and the site of installation affect the viewer’s experience of the artwork, as can be seen inUntitled.

If the Minimalists in this gallery are about form and volume, then Baldessari’s A Painting That Is Its Own Documentation is about rules and ideas—about the art object and modes of exchange. Baldessari anticipates many of the appropriation-based tactics of the 1970s and 1980s in his exploration of the (often humorous) methods of constructing the analysis of an endless array of information. A Painting That Is Its Own Documentation is a consummate example of Baldessari’s economical, yet loaded, use of text as painting and it challenges the notion of the artist as the sole producer of meaning. A self-referential relation between art object and its circulation is made explicit with instructions to continue the production of the painting by adding to its list of subsequent exhibitions, locking the concept of the painting into the circular process of its own making and presentation.

The far section of the main gallery is occupied by Keith Tyson’s The Block (part of Seven Wonders of the World series). Like the rest of Tyson’s work, this ambitious piece (both in scale and conceptual base) is an intensely humanistic exploration of some of the philosophical conundrums and the network of associations often left unengaged in contemporary art-making practices. In The Block, Tyson continues his exploration of life phenomena and, particularly, the degree to which we are able to recognize and rationalize a relationship between any particular historical truth and the larger system of the infinite and unknowable universe. At first glance, the sculpture seems to be a simple reference to the Minimalist works in the previous galleries, but Tyson does not simply present a reductive, machine-made form. The photographic images that surround the sculpture trace The Block’s history in different incarnations—chance events that have brought the artist into being—images re-imagined and literally illustrated in the making and re-casting of the bronze.

Installed in the side gallery leading out of the main gallery are Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #231 — The Location of a Quadrangle and Tony Conrad’s Yellow Movie, 2/21 – 22/73. Sol LeWitt’s artistic production strikes a delicate balance between perceptual and conceptual qualities in its dedication to the order of geometry, as well as to the pursuit of visual beauty. The installation of Wall Drawing #231 — The Location of a Quadrangle shows how the simple geometric line interrelates with (and is affected by) the format of the architectural environment of its installation. Ironically, and though not the artist’s intent, the installation also brings to mind the very genesis of art: the simple drawings etched into cave walls in prehistoric times.

In the early 1970s, the experimental filmmaker Tony Conrad sought to challenge the definition of film by exploring ways in which he might extend “duration” over years, decades or a lifetime. Yellow Movie, 2/21 – 22/73, from the Yellow Movie series, is illustrative of his investigation. In these works, large rectangles of household paint, outlined by a black frame, simulate the appearance of a movie screen. The paint itself acts as an emulsion of sorts, changing over time and tracing the activity of its environment. Conrad has even suggested that this type of filmmaking extends to the architectural environment: in which the paint on the walls records history on a monumental scale.

Bookending these galleries and linking to the themes of film and temporality in Conrad’s work are Vito Acconci’s Stills for Home Movies and Bruce Conner’s Eve-Ray-Forever. Like a string of subliminal images, the intense, strobe-like effect of Eve-Ray-Forever is somehow not far removed from Acconci’s black and white photographs punctuated by chalked text. Both of these works explore notions of otherness in popular culture and reference theater, film and performance while also connecting to the investigations and critiques found in Mike Kelley’s practice.

The works in this exhibition are but a small selection of the larger Stone collection. The Stones continue to collect today with the same dedication and individuality as they have over the last twenty years. Future installations at the Art Cave will explore new ideas and expressions emerging in contemporary art.

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