More than 40 years ago, Jennifer Bartlett established a simple, ostensibly minimalist method of painting that she has since used to widely varied effect. On a graph-paper grid silkscreened onto baked white enamel, mounted on a square steel plate, she paints colored dots. Sometimes the dots work like pixels, building up patterns or houses or mountains or trees, and sometimes they simply accumulate. Sometimes they grow large enough to cover multiple squares, but more often each square gets its own dot. Sometimes a gray circle rests over a colored one, like an occluded moon, and sometimes three colored circles stack up like a target.
In her most famous “plate painting,” the mid-1970s Rhapsody, Ms. Bartlett assembled 987 plates–many with dots, but some painted freehand–that marched methodically around gallery walls in columns of seven, turning corners without concern. Now, in Recitative, she presents a new single painting of 372 plates, in three sizes, that cover three long white walls under Pace Gallery’s curving nautical ceiling. It begins with a column of primary colors: one large plate of yellow dots, one of red in the middle and blue for the base. Then comes a column of medium-size secondaries, and then the little tertiaries.
As the painting progresses, it explores different possible arrangements of the colors. Alternating dots of two colors on each plate; all three colors on each plate; targets; rows. The big-medium-small arrangement continues, usually with one column of each but sometimes in blocks of nine. One group replaces yellow dots with Marden-like lines, red dots with splatter and blue with plaid. Dots return, cede to stripes, and return again. Finally a block of 81 pure colors, arranged like a Pantone chart, leads to 45 plates with textured small dots that point to a single clean black line looping around on itself over a score of freely tangling white plates.
The first set of big, medium and small plates lead directly enough to what follows, but they’re not so much an establishment of terms as they are the starting point, more or less arbitrary, to a story–an allusion not to geometry but to Goldilocks and the Three Bears. And the story that follows is inventive, but it is not, as it would be if the dots were the point, either thorough or ideological, so one can’t help but wonder whether it has to be about dots at all.
Here’s an old joke. Question: “What do Santa Claus and Dwight Eisenhower have in common?” Answer: “They both have beards, except for Eisenhower.”
Not everyone likes a joke like this. For some people, its flagrant refusal to abide by its own rules feels like an expression of amorphous hostility–which, of course, it is. But it’s also, if you have the taste for it, a joke about jokes, a satire of the unfounded pretenses of logical thinking, like Deville Cohen’s short video The Wall, currently showing at Foxy Production along with work by Joe Winter and Andrei Koschmieder.
It begins with two men dressed in black, their faces hidden behind enormous Xeroxes of bricks, stepping awkwardly from side to side. One man flourishes a golden pair of scissors and then begins cutting the other’s jeans off at mid-thigh. The jeans look real enough, so the legs, you suppose, must be somehow fake. A figure in white cutoffs folded up with careful rows of paperclips, hidden behind a building, climbs a Xeroxed ladder to paint a Xeroxed wall. Mr. Xerox Machine himself, in mustard-colored swim trunks, blows up a neon-yellow raft, and a woman in a dark bikini and Xeroxed chandelier mask that makes her look like an insect monster meditates behind false dichotomy (candles in ice trays) and de-contextualized tautology (a pyre of matchsticks). A man spray-paints a pair of high heels red and then tries to stand on his head. Mr. Xerox relaxes with a margarita glass of piss and a real brick. Then Mr. Building, in his white shorts and red water-wings and gloves reading “love” and “hate,” knocks over the ladder, which shatters the piss margarita and breaks the brick. But Mr. Xerox can glue it together again, with thick smears of lardlike glue; the two Messrs. Brick dance together, and everyone assembles, with ladder, raft and little purple inner tube, into a neon-Suprematist holy family.
The whole thing works as a kind of triple bluff. The stumble of the man in heels trying to do a headstand, or the awkward initial dancing, are so obviously fake that the act of faking them itself becomes the kind of endearing human gesture that they are nominally faking. But then, is that fake, too? The answer is yes–except for Eisenhower.
Follow Will Heinrich via RSS.