By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Swenson
By David Villano
By Kyle Swenson
By John Thomason
By Michele Eve
About three years ago, the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood's then-new curator, Samantha Salzinger, organized an exhilarating exhibition called "Fat Painting," focusing on four contemporary heirs of abstract expressionism. The paintings, as the inspired title suggests, were big and bold, bursting with imagery.
Now, Salzinger has put together a very different but equally exciting sequel of sorts called "Reduced." It too includes four contemporary artists, although this time, they're the heirs of minimalism, which flourished in the 1960s and 1970s, in part as a response to the perceived excesses of 1950s abstract expressionism. Maybe it's better to think of the new show as an "anti-sequel," a sleek, slimmed-down variation on its predecessor.
It's tempting to declare that everything there is to say about minimalism has already been said. Minimalists have always had the last laugh on those who would analyze their work to death. (Salzinger's introduction to the exhibition refers approvingly to Frank Stella's credo of "What you see is what you see.") But based on the works included here, it would clearly be a mistake to dismiss minimalism entirely. Just as "Fat Painting" reasserted the vitality of the ideas underlying abstract expressionism, "Reduced" demonstrates that some of the basics of minimalism are surprisingly enduring and versatile.
The show is about as Spartan as they come. It focuses primarily on a trio of South Florida-based artists, although it also includes a seminal 1971 video by John Baldessari (who is subjected to the careless indignity of having his name spelled three ways in the otherwise handsome exhibition brochure). And there are fewer than a dozen works by the three local artists -- five by Frances Trombly, four by Frank Wick, and two by Tom Scicluna -- all of which were created in the past three years.
While the art in "Reduced" is minimalist in spirit, it's probably more accurate to characterize it as post-minimalist in execution. Both terms derive from the writings of critics in reference to artists preoccupied with some of the problems posed by modernism. As Salzinger sums up in the brochure, "Modernism's main goal was to explore the purity of a medium, whether painting, sculpture, poetry, or music."
Minimalist masters as diverse as Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Dan Flavin, and Richard Serra emphasize material over content. Their work often seems as if it might have been manufactured by machine -- and indeed, sometimes it has been. It's cool and impersonal, clean and austere.
With post-minimalism, the idea of the thing, rather than just the thing itself, begins to creep back in. "Conceptual art," a term coined by LeWitt, joins forces with minimalism, although not without a power struggle. That dynamic is crystallized in the work of Trombly, which depends upon the discrepancy between what it says it is and what it really is for its impact.
Trombly's five contributions to "Reduced" dot the museum's main gallery, and none of them is what it seems. Sitting on the floor, propped against the left wall after you enter, is what appears to be a small panel of plywood, labeled, of course, Plywood. Also perched precariously on the floor, at opposite ends of the gallery, are two untitled works helpfully subtitled paper boat and paper airplane, based on the forms familiar to many of us from our school days. On the curved wall at the far end of the gallery hangs a diptych called Paintings, which appears to be simply two monochromatic canvases. And in a corner nearby is Paper Corner, a heap of what look like crumpled pieces of notebook paper, complete with red and blue lines.
A close inspection of these objects, however, reveals that they are made not of wood or paper or canvas at all but of fabric, meticulously woven and stitched to create the uncanny illusion that the items are actually fabricated from the materials they mimic. Despite (or maybe because of) their devastating simplicity, Trombly's deceptive objects generate a wealth of allusions. We are at once reminded not only of Marcel Duchamp's Readymades -- a urinal labeled Fountain or, better yet, a bottle rack titled Bottle Rack -- but also of the work of René Magritte, who painted a pipe and then called the painting Ceci n'est pas une pipe ("This Is Not a Pipe").
Trombly's work is the show's strongest statement of minimalism's continuing influence, but it's not enough to carry the exhibition by itself. That's why the work of Wick is such a reassuring presence in the main gallery -- it fleshes out the space without overwhelming it and both complements and contrasts with Trombly's pieces.
Wick, like Trombly, is a sly, even grim, jokester. One wall bears his Winner, which consists of a large white panel with the title word stenciled in the center in a ghostly off-white, then painted over with bacon grease, which dribbles down from the letters and spatters the floor. The oblique joke is explained in the brochure by the curator, who says the piece "uses language to illustrate humans' ability to produce text as an advantage over animals and thus the right to eat them, rendering humans as the 'winner. '"