"Mono-chrome" at Paul Rodgers / 9W
14 May – 22 June 2002
The monochrome represents a signal moment in post-war American art: it straddles Greenbergian modernism and its minimalist successors; it unites two seemingly incompatible paradigms, painting and the ready-made; and it encompasses the transcendental as well as the material, drawing on the competing legacies of Malevich and Rodchenko alike.
These are but some of the issues that Barbara Rose’s landmark essay “ABC Art” foregrounded in 1965, and that might now guide an analysis of Rose’s recent show at Paul Rodgers / 9W Gallery. Featuring five US and international artists – of particular note is Gerardo Ruedo, a pivotal Spanish modernist never exhibited in New York – “Mono-chrome” precedes a comprehensive 2004 retrospective at Madrid’s Museo Nacional Centro Reina Sofia.
Grouped by artist, “Mono-chrome” is startlingly idiosyncratic, at least for an exposition of a seemingly limited form. Certainly, there is the expected, if welcome, like Joseph Marioni’s Red Painting (2000) and White Painting (2001), layered expanses of glossy acrylic on linen. But surprises also abound: both Martin Kline’s boxy panels, from which fungi-like fluorescent outgrowths sprout, and Fred Eversley’s futuristic cast polyester sculptures, strip the monochrome of its art-historical link to painting and reclaim its definition as “single color.”
Still, with the exception of Rueda’s contributions from the ‘60s and ‘70s, the works are recent, pressing the question: What is the position, relevance, and configuration of the monochrome today, long after its initial manifestation in the ‘teens and ‘20s and its re-emergence in the ‘50s and ‘60s?
One consistency is a sense of check, as if, straining the parameters of painting, the artists found them resilient, indeed constricting. Even as Kline projects into the third dimension, his diamond-shaped Hot Pink Diagonal (2001) belies an affinity for Mondrian; and even as Eversley locates his works on pedestals, their translucency perfectly complies with modern painting’s rubric of opticality. Two panels titled White Sculpture (1998) by Roberto Pietrosanti feature concave triangular shapes in low relief, further articulating the equivocation between two and three dimensions.
This equivocation – and the artists’ variations of it – is the source of the exhibition’s polemic. Meant to open up the field of art in the ‘60s, the monochrome foreclosed aesthetic options for painting. On the one hand it fulfilled painting’s reductivist tendency; on the other, it approached what Greenberg derogatorily called an arbitrary object. Drawing on this already difficult legacy, “Mono-chrome” further registers an emergent, related conundrum for contemporary painters: to reconcile the modernist demand for novelty with the monochrome’s inherent repetitiveness, a repetitiveness now not only formal (how much more can one reduce a reduction?) but historical (what to do after Reinhardt and Newman?).
Painting has ridden a fraught path since the ‘60s, and “Mono-chrome” offers an admirable if not entirely resolved argument for the possibilities and parameters – indeed, continued relevance – of the medium. It is this argument, long-intimated in “ABC Art,” that makes Rose’s forthcoming retrospective in Madrid much anticipated and this, its overture, much appreciated.