For “Float,” her first solo show at Paula Cooper, Tauba Auerbach continued to pursue a demure minimalism while touching on the mechanics of color and the vagaries of perception. While her exhibition, which included paintings, sculptures and installations from 2012, was short on big sparks, it was absorbing in its conceptual rigor and mind-bending optical dexterity.
On display were five new works from the artist’s “Fold” series, begun in 2009. These trompe l’oeil paintings are made by unfolding a folded-up canvas, tracing the lines and shapes of the creases with paint from an industrial spray gun, then flattening out the fabric and presenting the result stretched. With their many apparent ripples and ridges, the “Folds” on view—some single-color, others two-toned—persuasively conjure the illusion of volume and depth. A few verge on ornate: one, in brilliant pink, seems to have been made by repeatedly imprinting the canvas with the surface of a highly decorative frame; another, in purple, evokes the sumptuous look and feel of plush silk. The “Folds” were the strongest works in the show.
Less impactful, despite their intricate system of fabrication, were five paintings from a new series called “Weaves,” in which the artist intertwines thin strips of raw canvas, fashioning them into chevrons, crosses and squares. Because there is no color, we find it difficult to follow these patterns, to discern their ins and outs. Like the “Folds,” the “Weaves” toy with our perception of depth and volume, but they are too mired in craftiness to function adequately as paintings. However, placed on plinths in the center of the room were two prism sculptures made of lead crystal cast within urethane resin, which supplied the paintings with some refreshing chroma. A peek through the sculptures produced the illusion of rainbows along the edges of the “Weaves”—an effective use of a science-lab tool that expanded the paintings’ optical possibilities. (The prism-gazing helped to explain the low hanging of the canvases, which at first seemed odd.)
Auerbach again played with viewers’ expectations in a bookwork, Bent Onyx, which appears dead-heavy but is actually made of super-fine paper printed with images of layered slices of an onyx block. For a nearby wall installation, Prism Scan I, Auerbach digitally scanned the images of flowers from behind corrugated glass. The ripple pattern produced a prism effect, refracting light and separating color. Vertical strips were cut from the resulting photographs at the spots where the prismatic effect was most pronounced. Mounted on 13 Plexiglas-and-aluminum planks, the colorful images, after these manipulations, resemble tribal patterns more than plants. Like the “Folds,” the plank installation was beguiling.
Photo: Tauba Auerbach: Untitled (Fold), 2012, acrylic on canvas, 60 by 45 inches; at Paula Cooper.