Sunday, June 14, 2009

Matthew Marks Gallery, 523 West 24stCharles Ray May 8- June 27

The Matthew Marks Gallery

To call Charles Ray an interesting artist would be a huge understatement. He's one of the most influential artists of his generation. That generation being of the late 80s and early 90s, which is why the three pieces chosen for this show were first exhibited over twenty years ago. "Ink Line", "Spinning Spot", and "Moving Wire" are all kinetic sculptures, or conceptual minimalist installations (whatever), and were all created in 1987 and 1988.

"Ink Line" is a continuous stream of black printers ink pouring out of a small opening in the ceiling of the gallery, and into an equally small opening in the floor. At first glance it looks like a static string or cable, and only on closer inspection can you tell that it's a moving liquid. "Moving Wire" appears to be two wires protruding from the galleries wall ten inches apart. Soon the viewer realizes that one wire is slowly moving out of the wall while the other one equally slowly retracts, indicating that the two wires are connected somewhere behind the wall. "Spinning Spot" is a cement disk inserted into the galleries cement floor that spins at 33RPMs. Personally I think It's the least intriguing of the three.

Rays work initially elicits a "cool, look at this" or "isn't that clever" gut level response, which I think undercuts the seriousness of the work. One thing he does that is pretty interesting is that he employs a hidden force outside the galleries interior for all of the works in the show, making the viewer more conscious of their environment, and how it limits what they see and know. Using that force he plays with perception in the tromp l'oeil tradition, but updating that tradition so that instead of dealing with two and three dimensional space he's dealing with static and kinetic energy. He also uses potential energy to take a unique turn on the artistic tradition of exploiting the seductive, tactile quality of the materials. You have a strong desire to touch the work, but (especially with "Ink Line") you know the potential damage you could cause. In fact it's the potential damage that amplifies the works tactile seductiveness. He's also one of the few conceptual artists I can think of that seems to make aesthetics a priority. Formally all three works function as very graceful, three dimensional line drawings, where elegance compliment conceptual imaginativeness. Now I'm Just wondering what he's doing today.

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