Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

The Actuality of the Idea

Posted in Reviews by bridgetdonlon on May 19, 2009
Installation view, via

Installation view, via

The recent group exhibition at Stuart Shave/Modern Art breathed some new life into Minimalism. The show disperses works by old standards among mid-career and younger artists. The exhibition’s title – The Actuality of the Idea – is the type of Hegel-referencin’, po-mo jargon hip phrase common to so many contemporary art show titles, but when broken down into layman’s terms describes exactly what is on view at Modern Art: the idea of Minimalism described visually.

The presence of Carl Andre and Agnes Martin root this exhibition in the art historical, but by showing them along with younger artists like Sara Barker and Nina Canell, their work becomes fresh and relevant. Minimalism here is not a response to Expressionism or a strict formal ethos, as we are taught in art school, but rather an exploration and celebration of material and form.

The works in the show are largely devoid of color, save for the muted primary colors in Rachel Whitread’s 139, enabling the formal elements and materials in each of the works to stand out. This is nothing new in the history of Minimalism, but in this context gives a new approach to looking at recently fashionable “detritus art”. Gedi Sibony’s Untitled appears to be the discarded packing material of a painting, more familiarly seen in the backroom of a commercial gallery or discarded on the floor of a booth at an art fair. This is the type of work that falls into the category of “You call this art?” Situated on a wall perpendicular to Carl Andre’s Graphite Cube Sum of Eight allows for contrasts that invigorate and contextualize reciprocally. Andre’s floorpiece, a standard in any Modern Art museum’s collection, seems stripped of it’s historical weight. One can simply look at it as a geometric grouping of a particular material, the same way one can consider Sarah Barker’s cardboard lines in space.

The works are in direct conversation with each other through a continued focus on line and maximum output through minimal materials. The space depicted in Fred Sandback’s two-dimensional line-drawing hanging in the back room is realized in Leonor Antunes sculptural work in the front room. This show is thoughtfully composed and the viewer delights in drawing connections between the works throughout the show. These works happen to sit among each other so well, that one wonders how well they might hold up in other exhibitions.  It is almost as if these works need each other, and in any other setting might be lost or devalued. Modern Art’s internal curating put together a show that operates within an historical precedent without being didactic or predictable. Hopefully this trend of considered gallery exhibitions will continue to be explored in this market downturn.

The Actuality of the Idea

18 April – 16 May, 2009

Stuart Shave/Modern Art

London W1W 8DF

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