Roving Eye: After Robert Bresson


I welcomed the ascetic French director Robert Bresson twice yesterday. Total serendipity, Au Hazard Balthazar. His first appearance came as I was contemplating the work of Barbara Probst and her grasp of a single moment though a multitude of lenses. Probst’s images always reveal their apparatus but never fully reveal the complexity of vision, or what it is to be perceived. Bresson came to mind, and his attention to stripped away, painterly if not sculptural gestures.

He came back as I was flipping through the pages of Richard Aldrich’s catalogue from the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, where an image from Bresson’s 1959 film Pickpocket appears in Laura Fried’s essay. The author quotes Bresson, who said, “Images must exclude the idea of images.” Aldrich’s exhibition evokes this sentiment. Paintings should exclude the idea of paintings, and that might be what attracts me to his work. It is painting à bruits secrets; painting problematized without destructive intentions.
He shares this with artist Todd Norsten’s It’s Too Late We Already Subverted The Picture Plane. Oh O.K. Maybe I should paraphrase Norsten and say that “we should stop whoring about it,” and that what he does is openly soak his medium in a healthy venom.  The title of his current exhibition at Fitzroy Gallery is “Middle America” . . . I think he’s speaking to a Western world on the edge of barbarism.
There is a catharsis to Matthew Barney’s “DJED,” at Gladstone Gallery. The sculpture is based on the performance that took place a year ago in Detroit, which in turn was based on Norman Mailer’s 1983 story of Egypt, Ancient Evenings. Shame on me for not having read it. But I do remember my years in Egyptian archeology classes, and Barney’s exhibition and performance are a journey into the book of death and anthropophagy. There myths, mythical figures, James Lee Byars, Richard Serra, Chrysler, Joseph Beuys, Osiris, Isis, Set, Horus and Unica Zürn leap out of their canope vases to shed some light on our present history. It’s sober and primal.
Sober and sobering would apply to Richard Serra’s latest exhibition at Gagosian. This is not sculpture anymore-it reaches way beyond. It is time made solid. The works are serene and dramatic, rough and painterly; they encompass in a cinematic manner all our humors, from melancholia to absolute bliss. I would like to be alone in the work for hours and just listen to it.
I love, too, the Haim Steinbach exhibition, “Creatures,” at Tanya Bonakdar, and the compact, almost oppressive sobriety of his système des objects, their emotional, psychological impact and haunting presence. The small text piece My Castle in the Sky is the key to the exhibition. The exhibition is syntactic: object verbs; shelves as nouns; and color as punctuation. “And to think it all started with a mouse . . .”
If one has a taste for history and storytelling, “Anarchism Without Adjectives,” about the work and the legacy of Chris d’Arcangelo at Artists Space, is extremely moving. Voices after voices. From Lawrence Weiner to Daniel Buren, from Ben Kinmont to Benjamin Buchloh, we are reminded of the radicality of an artist whose work was a few steps ahead of institutional criticism, and a thousand feet above the convention of a burgeoning art industry. The exhibition, if the word applies here, is beautifully conceived, and voices in the spare humility of the space reveal that one did not need to be bombastic to be significantly ambitious. For the right reasons.

Richard Serra, Cycle, 2011. © Richard Serra. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Photo by Lorenz Kienzle