Art Re­view

Su­san York: Car­bon

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

Su­san York: Car­bon is a stim­u­lat­ing way to re-ex­pe­ri­ence works by Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe in di­a­logue with a con­tem­po­rary artist. The con­text is a new, mu­seum- wide pre­sen­ta­tion of O’Ke­effe’s art — A Great Amer­i­can Artist. A Great

Amer­i­can Story — which con­sid­ers her f rom mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives in gal­leries sep­a­rated by themes such as Ab­stract Na­ture, Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe’s New Mex­ico, Preserving a Legacy, and Amer­i­can Icon(s). Most of York’s graphite sculp­tures and draw­ings — graphite be­ing the medium for which the Santa Fe-based artist is known — are in­stalled in the Amer­i­can Icon(s) gallery. The two artists’ bod­ies of work have cor­re­spon­dences, the most visu­ally con­sis­tent be­ing an in­ter­est in geo­met­ric form. The O’Ke­effe paint­ings, amid which York’s draw­ings and sculp­tures are in­stalled, are views of O’Ke­effe’s Abiquiú home, show­ing her pa­tio and door. Her door is of­ten rep­re­sented in her work by a black rec­tan­gle, im­pre­cisely ren­dered and painted with vary­ing de­grees of re­al­ism. O’Ke­effe re­vis­ited the door as a sub­ject time and again in the late 1940s and ’ 50s.

York’s min­i­mal­ist works are pri­mar­ily sculp­tural. In Float­ing Col­umn, a work in the Lan­nan Col­lec­tion, she creates a ten­sion be­tween the ob­ject, a mono­lithic piece of solid graphite t hat’s been pol­ished to a uni­form lus­ter, and t he space it oc­cu­pies. “It’s al­most a vi­bra­tion that oc­curs be­tween the sculp­ture and the floor ,” York told Pasatiempo. Float­ing mere cen­time­ters above the floor, the piece con­tra­dicts how we would nor­mally ex­pect an ob­ject with weight and solid form to be­have, seem­ingly de­fy­ing grav­ity. The show in­cludes a draw­ing based on the sculp­ture that York ren­dered in full- scale. The draw­ing’s height and nar­row pro­file re­call the early cityscapes of O’Ke­effe — that bear an affin­ity to O’Ke­effe’s ver­ti­cal sky­scrapers. Sim­i­lar works by York from the same se­ries ( 3 Col­umns) are set into cor­ners. They are made with pre­ci­sion, seem­ingly per­fect, but con­tra­dicted by a built-in asym­me­try; their geo­met­ric con­fig­u­ra­tions are skewed. The top of one col­umn may be nar­rower or wider than its base. Th­ese per­cep­tual changes be­come more no­tice­able de­pend­ing on the per­spec­tive from which they’re viewed, and so they have a dy­namic, fluid com­po­nent, chal­leng­ing no­tions of the fixed ob­ject. As a medium, graphite is most as­so­ci­ated with draw­ing. Work­ing three­d­i­men­sion­ally, York broad­ens one’s sense of how the ma­te­rial can be used and what it can con­vey.

O’Ke­effe, too, played with per­spec­tives in her rep­re­sen­ta­tions of her door, the ba­sic rec­tan­gu­lar shape of which was of­ten dis­torted de­pend­ing on the an­gle she was paint­ing from. Some of O’Ke­effe’s paint­ings are ab­stracted, though still rep­re­sen­ta­tional. O’Ke­effe in­cor­po­rated hard- edge paint­ing in her com­po­si­tions, com­bin­ing it with a softer ap­proach by us­ing oils the way an­other artist might use wa­ter­col­ors. In the draw­ing Float­ing Col­umn, a blurred halo sur­rounds the hard- edged rec­tan­gu­lar form, es­tab­lish­ing an­other affin­ity be­tween her works and O’Ke­effe’s.

O’Ke­effe cu­ra­tor Carolyn Kast­ner si­t­u­ated the ex­hibit in such a way that vis­i­tors who are about to en­ter the Amer­i­can Icon(s) gallery see only York’s works in the space be­yond. But a sur­pris­ing num­ber of O’Ke­effe’s paint­ings be­gin to come into view as one moves into the gallery. The op­po­site ef­fect oc­curs when a per­son is in­side the gallery look­ing out. There is a spot from which York’s art­work vir­tu­ally van­ishes from sight, and only O’Ke­effe’s paint­ings are vis­i­ble.

One could say t hat York works re­duc­tively, at least in terms of her process. How­ever, her draw­ings are made us­ing an op­po­site ap­proach, al­beit still in the ser­vice, as with her sculp­ture, of dis­till­ing es­sen­tial forms. Her draw­ings can have as many as 50 lay­ers of graphite be­fore she reaches the amor­phous qual­ity — some­where in be­tween ab­sorp­tion and re­flec­tion— that has both a flat­ness and depth. It’s the ver­sa­til­ity of graphite that en­ables York to cre­ate two dis­tinct bod­ies of work that com­pli­ment and in­form one an­other, de­spite be­ing cre­ated through di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed ap­proaches. Whether they are draw­ings or sculp­ture, the ma­te­rial is the same.

A se­ries of a dozen or so of O’Ke­effe’s orig­i­nal frames that she com­mis­sioned for her paint­ings is in­tended, in part, to show the va­ri­ety of frame styles she em­ployed through­out her ca­reer. The empty frames echo, first of all, the ex­hibit’s sub­tle op­ti­cal ef­fects: the ap­par­ent but il­lu­sory dis­ap­pear­ance and reap­pear­ance of the art­works. The rec­tan­gle is, again, the pri­mary geo­met­ric form. York’s art­work sug­gests in-be­tween states of ex­is­tence, where a rec­tan­gle can be seen as an ob­ject, such as a cube, as an open win­dow or door, or an­other void space. The same is true of O’Ke­effe’s ar­chi­tec­tural views of her home. The empti­ness of the frames, at the ex­hibit’s con­clud­ing end, are a sur­pris­ingly bold way to end an ex­hibit that in­cludes any­thing by O’Ke­effe, a col­orist — one’s first glimpse of a wall of empty frames is a lit­tle shock­ing be­cause it’s so un­ex­pected. The un­filled frames make sense within the con­text of the show’s theme on the dis­til­la­tion of geo­met­ric form, how­ever. The empty frame is a log­i­cal next step. Con­versely, so is the solid ob­ject. I’ll be look­ing for­ward to fu­ture di­a­logues be­tween con­tem­po­rary artists like York and O’Ke­effe, who, one may be sur­prised to dis­cover, still has things to say.

— Michael Abatemarco

Su­san York: Float­ing Col­umn, 2012, graphite on BFK Rives, photo In­Sight Foto Inc., 2016; © Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe Mu­seum

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