Locks Gallery is pleased to present Off the Wall, a group exhibition that savors the inventive, playful and subversive deconstructions that take place at the partition between painting and sculpture, while continuing to explore the postmodern dissolution of traditional media distinctions. Spanning multiple generations, the exhibition presents works by artists who have mounted critical solo exhibitions at Locks, and marks the gallery’s longstanding interest in the transformative practices of avant-garde innovators Frank Stella and Richard Artschwager, as well as prominent post-Minimalists including Elizabeth Murray, Jennifer Bartlett, and Lynda Benglis. Off the Wall showcases the work of the 1980s and ‘90s, offering an idiosyncratic snapshot of a divergence in contemporary art—seeded in the late 1950s, but continuing to the present—where many artists have explored the object potential of paintings, rather than solely the illusionistic picture plane.
The categorizing mind may query, “Is it painting, or sculpture?” This however, runs counter to the intention of the makers who were consistently interested in dissolving these distinctions. Richard Artschwager’s peculiar construction Splatter, Desk, Chair, Typewriter (1997), utilizes the intersecting gallery walls to create a form within a right-angled corner, and serves as the thematic anchor of the show by conceptually and physically bending painting into sculptural space through the dramatic act. Works created by Lynda Benglis in the 80s, in which the artist manipulated industrial mesh into knotted shapes and froze the forms using liquidized copper and aluminum, distort traditional rectilinear painted planes as well as the sculptural tradition of casting as they extend out and away from their origin. Two late ‘90s works by Frank Stella, who had an immersive, multi-floor exhibition at Locks Gallery in 2000, provide a glimpse of the esteemed artist’s elasticity within the nexus of painting and sculpture. Widely cited as a transitional moment between Abstract Expressionism and minimalism, Stella’s first exhibition of shaped canvases in 1958 anticipates the numerous shaped canvas works of the younger artists featured alongside him in Off the Wall. Works by Jennifer Bartlett and David Row, as well as the irregular, biomorphic canvas support of Elizabeth Murray’s Sandpaper Fate, demonstrate the ongoing interest in emphasizing a painting’s physical parameters, rather than the ‘illusion’ of space contained within it.
The thematic narrative of the exhibition continues through the works of Robert Rauschenberg, who introduced the term “combines” in the 1950s to articulate his Dada-inspired assemblages, fusions of painting and sculpture. Two of Rauschenberg’s later combines are on view here, while other works featured in the show—such as Nancy Graves’ bright wood and metal floor constructions—embody his terminology in their resistance to single media presentation. Graves’ work evokes painted gestures floating in space, completing a circular narrative in which painting and sculpture are not categories, but relative terms, forming a range wherein artists continue to produce unclassifiable, speculative forms. In parting from expectation in the pursuit of engaging forms, innovative material usage, and unprecedented installation, this exhibition amply describes an ingenuity consistent with Locks Gallery’s historic exhibition program.