It is a common belief today that abstraction and politics don’t mix. We tend to think of formalism as either transcendent of problems like race and war, or on the other hand, beholden to its limitations as decoration, bought and sold in the marketplace. Reduced Visibility, curated by Core Program Critical Studies Resident Kurt Mueller at the Glassel School of Art in Houston, challenges these notions. Drawing on the rich history from the genesis of abstraction that engaged politics with movements such as the Russian Avant Garde, Mueller has assembled an array of artists that are deeply involved in both reduced form and sociological weight.
The exhibition of five artists includes Mark Lombardi‘s obsessively researched and painstakingly drawn constellations of financial and political scandals. Once we get past the beautiful formations of delicately drawn graphite lines, we can see small notes that reference oil companies, Swiss banks and politicians from the US, Middle East and Latin America that sit somewhere between conspiracy theories and nightmarish truths. Also included are Trevor Paglen‘s photographs of secret CIA and US military installations, shot with an astrophotography lens from up to 65 miles away. The resulting images look like a simple hazy horizon evocative of Mark Rothko’s late work.
Lisa Oppenheim‘s Multicultural Crayon Displacements (2008) is a series of photographs based on Crayola’s Multicultural crayon Set. Oppenheim photographed each of the 14 colors included in this set with red, green and blue filters. She then projected the resulting colored shapes onto photosensitive paper, assembling geometrical compositions loaded with questions of race. Rico Gatson‘s video-sculpture History Lessons (2004) is a remix of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915), clips of stereotypical depictions of African-Americans from 1930s and ’40s Hollywood films, and photographs from the 1965 Watts riots. Finally, Hellen Mirra uses sculpture and text to construct minimal forms which use pinecones and hand-sawn shipping pallets from Berlin’s Grunewald, referencing both minimalist sculpture and the fraught ecological history of industrialized Europe.
Rico Gatson (American, born 1966, lives and works in Brooklyn, New York), Helen Mirra (American, born 1970, lives and works in Cambridge, MA), Mark Lombardi (American, born 1951, died 2000), Lisa Oppenheim (American, born 1975, lives and works in New York, New York), and Trevor Paglen (American, born 1974, lives and works in Oakland, California).