The blatently obvious fact that galleries have walls and floors, and that art is displayed on them, has been charged with considerable significance in art since the 60s. An important reason for this is that spatial orientation says a lot about the particular objecthood of artworks. Not only do wall and floor correspond to traditional notions of painting and sculpture, they also stage particular relationships between viewer and work.
Exemplary of such debates is the contest over the appropriate orientation of Pollock’s drip paintings. Do they belong to the idealising wallspace of painting (addressing ‘eyesight alone’), or to the messy, material, embodied floorspace which was the site of their ‘phenomenology of making’?
Artists working in the wake of Pollock sought to disrupt the either/or of painting or sculpture, wall or floor. Hesse’s ‘Hang Up’, 1966, Serra’s ‘Splashing’, 1968, Nauman’s ‘Wall/Floor Positions’, 1968, are just some notable examples of such disruption. Judd’s 1965 text ‘Specific Objects’, which argued for an art that was ‘neither painting nor sculpture’, provided a manifesto for such efforts.
The work in this group show is characterised by a more allusive and ambiguous take on these concerns; oblique poetics replace the polemics of 60s neo-avant-gardism. The melancholy of Sara Barker’s cement architectural ‘fragments’ and the enigmatic, poignant combinations of objects in Sally Osborn’s ‘Thinking for U’, set the tone. Neil Clements’ shaped canvas ‘Tipton’ recalls Stella’s ‘Black Paintings’ (a key example for Judd), but also references the shaped guitar played by Judas Priest’s Glenn Tipton. His oil-on-steel ‘May 6, 1969’, 2008, likewise plays with the purity of avant-gardist negation, rendering the photo-documentation from Robert Barry’s ‘Inert Gas Series’ in the very medium Barry sought to evade through such putatively ‘dematerialised’ art.
These works, along with Clements’ neon museum rail, set up a sceptical reading of conceptualism’s teleology from painting as object, to idea as art, and finally to institutional critique.
Another reference to historical precedent is evident in Albrecht Schäfer’s ‘Noguchi split No 3’, 2008, which cuts the Japanese/American sculptor’s paper and bamboo lamp along its structural elements to open it out and render it decorative rather than useful, a gesture which amplifies Noguchi’s claim that his lamps have a ‘poetic, ephemeral, and tentative’ quality.
Jonathan Owen’s pieces also involve a degree of decorativeness and delicacy. A car mat is cut into a filigree wall-object. The ‘boy racer’ stylings of the mat chosen, and the fact that the seemingly abstract patterning is derived from images of Moses’ beard, relate to Owen’s interest in questions of patriarchal authority and male identity. His burned or interwoven photographs also address these themes.
Claire Barclay’s ‘Mock-Up’ exemplifies the uncanny objecthood of much of this exhibition. Its elements seem ordinary, yet the arrangement of them creates a sense of indeterminacy. The partially silvered mirror which lies under a simple A-frame is, like almost everything here, displaced from its usual familiar orientation and use.
‘Mock-Up’, and the other works in this show, are characterised by an accomplished and poised sense of ambiguity. Diffident, rather than cold or negative (in the way that Stella’s black paintings once seemed) these objects have something to say about making and displaying art, but they say it quietly and cautiously.
Dominic Paterson is a lecturer at Glasgow University