Recurrence, a five-artist exhibition curated by Luisa Aguilar Solis and Georgia Horn now at Fridman Gallery, takes its name from Italo Calvino’s 1968 novel, Daughters of the Moon. Calvino imagines a world in which capitalist society’s obsession with consumption and novelty, and the cycle of obsolescence that inevitably follows, reaches a fever pitch: People decide that the moon, cratered as it is, is past its prime, and set out to demolish and replace it. The curators of Recurrence propose that the included artists’ work resonates with many of the book’s concerns—if not with the phases of the moon itself, then with the waxing and waning of art-historical reference points. In doing so, they perhaps unwittingly reveal just how short contemporary art’s cycle of recurrence seems to be, which merits discussion.
Lauren Fensterstock’s and Edgar Arcenaux’s works depict, or at least suggest, moonlight. Fensterstock’s Claude Glass Cube 1 & 2 consists of two glass-topped black cubes, the interior sides of which are overgrown with vegetation—leaves, flowers, vines—made from thick, dark gray cardboard and black felt, giving the effect of a moonlit, modernist terrarium. Arcenaux presents Detroit Steel, a series of nine paintings depicting massive geometric slabs, apparently arranged with purpose from various angles in the manner of a topographical study, in what seems a nighttime desert expanse (though it could be lunar).
It probably goes without saying that these works, besides reveling in the poetry of moonlight, plainly converse with the Minimalism that dominated American art discourse around the time that Calvino wrote Daughters. Arcenaux’s reference is in fact explicit: As indicated by red text printed across each image, the monoliths in his scenes are from Michael Heizer’s City and Dragged Mass, enormous sculptures begun in the early 1970s in the Nevada Desert. Fensterstock’s cubes, as the exhibition’s curators point out, call to mind Tony Smith’s work of the 1960s. But instead of the pure, physical confrontation through which Smith’s brand of Minimalism forced viewers to reflect on their own perceptual experiences, Fensterstock’s secretly lush objects reveal themselves to contain interior worlds of their own. One feels as though one could crawl in and emerge in a mysterious alternate dimension—something that no one would ever say of a Minimalist cube.
Such creative reuse of past art-historical ideas is a major part of the “recurrence” that characterizes the exhibition. The curators present this inclination as productive (“This show underlines the presence of the past and its place in defining our relationship to the future”) and, as demonstrated above, it undoubtedly is in certain regards. But it is worth pressing such optimistic statements about how these objects relate past and future when the “past” it concerns is only forty years old (or less in the case of Ariana Papademetropoulos’s impressive Ancestor, a large-scale painting also included in the exhibition that appropriatively re-creates a soiled magazine page from a 1970s home-decor magazine).
It seems almost a hallmark of contemporary art that art-historical reference points fall no further back than Minimalism. However smart, incisive, and renewing such works may be within the scope of recent art history, rarely are they able to destabilize or defamiliarize lived reality in a deep way. For when the cycle of recurrence is so short—when the past is so close to the present— how can artists begin to envision a future? Indeed, this mode of art making may reflect more of a subjection to the consumerism that Calvino hyperbolized, in which cycles of obsolescence and reappearance grow ever more rapid, than a critical antipathy to it.
Recurrence is on view at Fridman Gallery through August 15, 2014.