Ben Schumacher: Register of Documents 1974-: James Fuentes, 55 Delancey St, New York, NY
I really like Ben Schumacher’s work, and this is why it is unpleasant for me to say that his current exhibition at James Fuentes is disappointing. The show is entitled, Registrar of Documents 1974-, and it suffers from its density. I’m actually not sure if it is an installation, maybe it’s a gathering of related sculptures, in any way; at first contact one is presented with a lot all at once. There are thirteen named pieces and they resemble a mix between just shipped futuristic car parts and computer chips for giants. They are on the floor, off the wall and there are also big fruit things hanging from yellow netting in various places. The materials list consists mostly of; aluminum, glass, perforated adhesive vinyl, and screws. You get a sense right away that it is the materials that matter. As you look at the surfaces, you see that there is more going on here. There is text, there are images, there looks to be what is a necktie. This is the cue for you to read the press release to get a better clue on what the heck is happening, unfortunately, doing this only creates more problems. The press release is nearly three and a half pages long, a Moby Dick of PRs compared to most. It tells you about the Berlin Wall, about the origin of the word window, of people trying to escape for East Berlin. It speaks of the Samizdat or “Russian unofficial literature,” and how it was a primary tool for disseminating dissident ideas. It tells how this exhibition consists of the complete writings of the samizdat publications from 1974-on that is in the holdings of the New York Public Library. It then goes on to touch upon the ideas of circulation of ideas via non-circulating objects and also the implications of the act of “registration of a quantum event” which seems to be the point of it all, this idea of the quantum phenomenon. Did I lose you? Well if you’re not, I am. It’s not that I can’t grasp the concepts; it’s the way in which these concepts are clipped up and written like a dossier for my visual comprehension. The problem is not in the works themselves, as some are subtly fantastic ones like the cement paintings such as Bevel B or the standing sculpture that was in the middle of the room with holes in the aluminum surface’s of two pieces that had overlaying elements that made it do optical eye tingles, these were very good indeed. What seems to be at issue is that both the installation and the press release should have been edited down. Having too much of everything to get a point across can be as fatal as the crutch of minimalist heady installs. That’s just my take on it, maybe it was all meant to be an intellectual joke, if so, over my head obviously. Maybe I’m too dense to get much of anything but to me, the exhibition seems to have failed through its attempt to be non-negotiable in its proof of evidence.
Gerald Ferguson: Work, Stencil Through Frottage From 1968, Canada, 55 Chrystie St, New York, NY
I had never heard of Gerald Ferguson until I happened upon his show at Canada gallery in the Lower East Side and for that I am mildly embarrassed but more so, happily introduced. Ferguson was a conceptual artist that was American born but lived and taught in Halifax Nova Scotia. He died in 2009 and this show features a retrospective of works, curated by Luke Murphy, that includes earlier works from 1968 and up to 2007. There is an astonishing consistency of investigation in his works, which are paintings that are predominantly on raw tannish canvas with black oil paint. They at first glance feel like exercise paintings with a formula to follow. Some fall flat on that structure but others start doing something else entirely. His 1 Mile Clothesline, 2000 is one of the larger works at 60 x 108 inches and it has layers of fluid black lines that recall all those things about “drip painting” but is obviously not one of them. There is a sense of control and skill that is translated on this seemingly spontaneous painting. The interplay of line and negative space of the tan canvas makes the entire piece feel like it is cutting up and into space in flickering reconfigurations before your eyes. Other subtleties can be seen in his paintings that look like they are an accumulation of minimalist stamps. An L shaped square, a box with dots in the left corner. These forms are gridded unto the canvas until the space is all used up. When this is done, some possess a certain something and they are just wonderful to look at. There is poignancy in a certain touch that Ferguson’s work possess. There is a quality in his paintings and the marks are the source of this. The forms feel like a necessary parameter as much as the canvas and the black paint are. I most enjoyed the works where there was a rub of blue or red, almost like a mistake but obviously very much intended.