YOU LOOK INTO WHAT AP­PEARS AN IN­FI­NITE DARK COR­RI­DOR

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

light that strikes the black sur­face is ab­sorbed and none of the spec­trum vis­i­ble to the hu­man eye as colour is re­flected.

In Blue Re­flex (1966-67) by Ian Burn, on the other hand, the sur­face of the paint­ing is a com­pletely flat dark blue. The paint, which is mul­ti­ple lay­ers of au­to­mo­bile enamel on ply­wood, is me­chan­i­cally ap­plied with­out brush­strokes or any vis­i­ble mark of hav­ing been cre­ated by a hu­man hand. But al­though the artist as sub­ject has dis­ap­peared en­tirely be­hind the work, the pic­to­rial sur­face, be­cause it is so dark and glossy, has be­come a mir­ror re­flect­ing the viewer. In a sense we can’t re­ally see the paint­ing as an ob­ject be­cause it in­sists on echo­ing back our own world.

An­other thing that is strik­ing about Blue Re­flex is that it would not achieve this ef­fect if it were not made with the great­est care and at­ten­tion to ex­e­cu­tion. One of the ques­tions the min­i­mal­ists asked them­selves was how lit­tle was in­dis­pens­able to make a work of art. In prac­tice the an­swer could vary: Joseph Beuys, for ex­am­ple, could make works with a very low stan­dard of craft ex­e­cu­tion be­cause he was re­ly­ing on the quasi-mag­i­cal res­o­nance of his char­ac­ter­is­tic mo­tifs and ma­te­ri­als. The Amer­i­can min­i­mal­ists, how­ever, es­chew­ing all such nat­u­ral as­so­ci­a­tions, were left with the ne­ces­sity of tech­ni­cal ex­e­cu­tion.

The best ex­am­ple in the ex­hi­bi­tion is Don­ald Judd’s Un­ti­tled (1969-71), which is also the finest and most com­plex work in the show. This sculp­ture con­sists of a very large box open at both ends, made of bare alu­minium on the out­side and painted on the inside, once again, in a very dark high-gloss au­to­mo­bile sur­face.

One sees at once that for this piece to achieve its ends, its pro­duc­tion must be flaw­less — with the in­hu­man flaw­less­ness, in fact, that can come ical pro­cesses.

The paint on the inside is so dark that a ca­sual visi­tor might imag­ine it was black. The briefest mo­ment of at­ten­tion, how­ever, re­veals that it is re­ally a very deep, inky blue, though this is vis­i­ble only on the floor of the box, where it is struck by the am­bi­ent light of the gallery. But once you have no­ticed this, you be­gin to see more and more.

First you find that be­cause of the size of the box, its po­si­tion on the floor, and the dis­tance from which you nat­u­rally find your­self view­ing it, you can­not at first see through to the other

only from mechan- side. In­stead you look into what ap­pears an in­fi­nite dark cor­ri­dor, end­ing in an ob­long of light on the floor re­flect­ing the aper­ture at the other end. De­pend­ing on how you move from side to side, the ob­long of light moves around in the ob­long of dark­ness at the viewer’s end, so dark and fea­ture­less that you can al­most imag­ine you are look­ing at an an­i­mated ver­sion of a hard-edge ab­stract paint­ing. But the work is not en­tirely ab­stract af­ter all, since the ob­long of light re­flects the ceil­ing, with its beams and lamps.

If you then step back to the point where you can see through the tun­nel to the gallery floor Robert Mor­ris’s Un­ti­tled (1970), al­though os­ten­si­bly en­tirely dif­fer­ent, ad­dresses the viewer in a sim­i­lar way.

It is one of a se­ries of works made from heavy-duty in­dus­trial felt, care­fully (and of course me­chan­i­cally) cut in five hor­i­zon­tal lines with a short ver­ti­cal slit at each end, so that what was orig­i­nally a sin­gle rec­tan­gle of fab­ric be­comes a se­ries of mas­sively heavy rib­bon shapes, hang­ing in long loops, the low­est rest­ing on the ground, an im­me­di­ate and phys­i­cal metaphor of en­tropy.

These two works, in­ci­den­tally, roughly sum up the sub­tle dif­fer­ence be­tween min­i­mal­ist, which tends to be geo­met­ric and pre­cise, and post-min­i­mal­ist, which em­ploys more or­ganic ma­te­ri­als and less for­mal struc­tures. The trou­ble with ei­ther va­ri­ety of the style, of course, is that if it not done ex­tremely well it can be ter­ri­bly bland, and such is the fate of many of the lo­cal artists who try to fol­low in a rel­a­tively per­ilous path. An ex­cep­tion is Robert Hunter, whose min­i­mal­ist paint­ings in shades of white re­veal sub­tle vari­a­tions in hue, tone and tem­per­a­ture to the pa­tient viewer.

A sort of coda to the ex­hi­bi­tion deals with the tran­si­tion from min­i­mal­ism to con­cep­tu­al­ism. We meet Ian Burn again, now with a mir­ror piece pon­der­ing philo­soph­i­cal co­nun­drums of iden­tity and causal­ity, as well as Dale Hickey’s 100 White Walls, a grimly ascetic work from a pain­ter. But con­cep­tu­al­ism too is a form of late mod­ernism rather than of post­mod­ernism, con­cerned as it still is to de­ter­mine some trace, how­ever ex­igu­ous, of cer­tainty and au­then­tic­ity in a world of il­lu­sion.

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