A Survey of Propositions, Commitments and New Departures.
A group show of Minimalist inspired works opened at Bentley gallery this past week entitled "Minimally Speaking", which prompts the question, what does it mean to speak in the language of Minimalism today? Of course, Minimalism was originally a response to the expressive pathos of Abstract Expressionism and Clement Greenberg's defense of flatness as the teleological thrust of modern art. Minimalism traded on countering the organic unity of Ab-Ex painting with systems thinking, repeated geometries and what Michel Fried called 'a theatrical use of space' which sought to engage the viewer on multiple levels of experience. In other words, Minimalism often abandoned the gallery walls in order to be situated alongside the art going public, where interaction and seeing objects in the round involved a more varied, and perhaps, more cerebral engagement on the part of the viewer. By contrast with New York Minimalism, which was austere and often relied on primary colors and forms, California Minimalism was decidedly slicker, more opulent and not as suspicious of pleasure or a mixed pallet. So what does this mean for how we think about the works in "Minimally Speaking", which are situated somewhere between these two schools of thought, both geographically and aesthetically.
But why exactly is this the case, and how can we think about it in terms of being a regional problematic, a cultural dialogue and a question about concerns in contemporary art practice? In order to show how these disparate fields of inquiry are of any special import with regard to art criticism, it is not only necessary to examine the ethos that ties an exhibition of works together formally, but also, to delve into the motivations which drive and define each artist's project in particular. Which is to say, a comparative analysis of works only takes on its full meaning in light of providing a closer reading of each individual contribution. Thus, we must attempt to better understand where each piece in the show sits with regard to the formal and cultural associations that allow any given work to find a 'voice', or a way of 'speaking', within the bounds of a historically condition iconography and its attending expectations. In this case, we are obviously talking about the idiom of Minimalism, whether adopted as a working language, or as language transformed, transmuted and sometimes, simply muted, in order to whisper to us through softer tones and gentler affects. But just how is this achieved in each artists oeuvre, and how can we characterize the nature of their varied contributions toward speaking Minimally?
While "Red Cube" alone is worth the drive to see the exhibition, the show itself provides an incisive commentary on what it means to "Speak Minimally" in the first quarter of the twenty-first century. In fact, we might say these works want to talk to us about art history, place and space, but with as little small talk as possible. They get right to the point in speaking with poignant gestures and eremitic designs, which are the hallmark of the Minimalist program. But it is also important to understand that they point to a multitude of other concerns as well, be they regional, theoretical or theatrical. This small group show, which is really more of a survey in brief, is richly rewarding for being both innovative and provocative. But most importantly, it is worth the trip to come investigate in person, as the works are mostly in the round, and only reveal themselves through the extended time of viewing.
Call (480) 946-6060 or visit their website at http://bentleygallery.com/ for more information.