I once heard NYU professor Neil Postman say, while musing some years ago on the then-hot topic of “cyberspace,” that although we understand that term to mean something like the place where we focus our consciousness while we’re surfing the Web, sending e-mail, and the like, for him the big question is: Where is our consciousness the rest of the time?
An exhibition of minipaintings by Lucio Pozzi now up at BCB Art in Hudson demonstrates the aptness of Postman’s observation.
Much has been made of the deceptively neutral space of the classic “white box” gallery—all those silent surfaces that invisibly frame the contemporary experience of art, yet without which the presumed autonomy of the modern painting would be impossible. The architecture fundamentally structures the experience but is ultimately meant to be forgotten in this kind of encounter with art. (You can see the ultimate extension of this logic in the new MoMA, which, with the simple introduction of clothing racks in place of painting and sculpture, could easily become the world’s largest Gap store.)
Pozzi’s work stands in stark contrast to this willful erasure of the viewing context. His minipaintings—none more than seven inches tall—work the logic of architecture from the inside out, spreading their influence far beyond the relatively small surface area of the paintings themselves. Typically, he arrives with just a suitcase full of paintings, selecting a few and installing them in the gallery space in question in order to maximize their presence. At BCB, the paintings are all one-and-one-quarter-inches deep, the canvas stained to match the predominant color of the finished work, ranging from flat grey to spring green to ochre. Over that base he lays two broad bands of saturated, contrasting colors (orange/black, blue/green, et cetera), which are largely obscured by a thick coat of paint matching the base-level stain. While it’s still wet, he digs into this top layer to reveal tantalizing bits of the bright colors underneath—small passages that activate the surface of the painting, just as the small painting itself activates the broad, even surface of the wall itself.
As a sort of coup de grace, Pozzi dots the top level of the works with spots of the underpainting’s colors, once again inverting/subverting simple concepts like near and far, top and bottom, major and minor. The depth of the stretchers lends a sculptural dimension to the paintings, which then initiates a dialogue with the architecture in which they’re placed—on one large wall at BCB, a single painting is hung far to one side, uncannily emulating the size and position of a thermostat fixture on the opposite side. The subversiveness of this move is both subtle and powerful. When was the last time you saw art that intentionally made you think about electrical outlets and light switches?
The illusionistic appeal of paint on canvas is abandoned here, leaving us in a position to encounter, through ingeniously modest means, the fundamental realities of space, of light, of color—not just within the bounds of the painting, but everywhere outside it as well. Like that old saw about the tree falling in the forest, this art truly exists only when there is a viewer to complete the equation, and it opens the discussion in a way that permits these small paintings to ingest the horizon of the world itself.
Each installation of this work is unique, dependent on Pozzi’s response to the environment and nature of the space in question. As a result of this, in the late ‘60s, during his early career, he found himself labeled a “site-specific” painter, a term he treats with bemusement. He’s since worked out a sliding scale of site-specificity, ranging from the most acute cases to a looser application of the term that he calls “site-acknowledgment.” And, in light of this evolving scale, he now calls the usual approach to hanging traditional paintings “site-adaptable”—the comic truth of which points out how dependent all art ultimately is on the context of its presentation. There’s no such thing as completely autonomous work, work that exists independent of the architecture, the institutions, even the art criticism that surrounds it. The title of the exhibition, “The Void that Holds Stars and Pebbles in their Place”—gains enormous traction in this light.
It all boils down to that question of consciousness—which, of course, is a many-splendored thing. There’s Zen mind, BlackBerry mind, walk-in-the-park mind, anxiety mind. Each and every one of these states opens up certain experiences and closes the door on others, including the particular layers of meaning in a work of art that are apparent to us at any given time. “Reality” is a term that by rights always ought to be plural.
In a brilliant twist, Pozzi has invited the “minimal interference” of artist Raquel Rabinovich in the show. These disturbances in the flow of space/time/consciousness take the form of four miniscule works, none larger than a thumbnail, installed in odd locations (high on a wall; on the moulding surrounding a window). Drawn from Rabinovich’s “River Library” project, which involves coating and/or impregnating already dense handmade paper with the muddy sediment of rivers from around the world, they make Pozzi’s mini-paintings seem enormous by contrast, and call upon a markedly different mental register in the viewer. Some of these tiny works are composed of mud from two or more different rivers, condensing the macrocosmic scale of the world into a thimble-size fragment. Taken together, the work of both artists provides the perceptive viewer an opportunity to explore new continents, new galaxies of space, both within and outside of ourselves.
“The Void that Holds Stars and Pebbles in Their Place,” minipaintings by
Lucio Pozzi, is on view through June 24 at BCB Art, 116 Warren Street, Hudson.
(518) 828-4539; www.bcbart.com.
- _Encounters_, Lucio Pozzi, oil on canvas on wood, 6â€ x 5â€ x 1Â¼â€, 2007
- Installation view of Lucio Pozziâ€™s minipaintings at BCB Art.