On Walls

Anne Truitt, Josephine Meckseper, Wieland Speck & Daniel Rich

June in Chelsea, New York
by Claire Ruud

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      Anne Truitt
      White: Four
      1962
      Latex-based enamel on wood
      87 3/4 x 19 7/8 x 7 inches
      © Estate of Anne Truitt, The Bridgeman Art Library, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York

      View Gallery

      The wall—the feeling of a wall—was a leitmotif of my visit to Chelsea last week. Of course, Chelsea is filled with walls. But generally, walls are the architecture that more or less invisibly structures the display of artworks. This time, for me, a number of artworks presented the wall itself as a subject of contemplation. Now, where walls are the subject, political statements can easily squash emotional nuance. But the four works that captured my attention—Anne Truitt’s White: Four, Josephine Meckseper’s [slat wall], Wieland Speck’s Berlin Off/On Wall and Daniel Rich’s Basement/Berlin Wall—capture a wide range of affect that we may experience in the face of a wall. I could take these works to a moralistic place and discuss their relationship to the present day politics of the Gaza Strip or our own southern border. Or, I could simply soak in the feeling of walls, as devastating, haunting, or protective as they might be. I prefer the latter.

      White: Four (1962), an early work by Truitt in her recent show at Matthew Marks, is over seven feet tall but less than two feet wide. The exhibition itself consisted mainly of Truitt’s later, more iconic, square columnar sculptures painstakingly covered in layers of luminous paint. These appeared together in the main gallery, while White: Four received a chapel-like side gallery all its own. Fashioned in four narrow vertical panels suggesting a fence, the sculpture’s brief, freestanding expanse nonetheless evokes the psychological effect of a massive wall. Or perhaps more rightly, a massive wall carries such psychological impact that only a short span of such a wall—in this case, Truitt’s two feet of flawless white surface—can awaken those same feelings. Naturally, the timbre of these feelings depends on which side of the wall you feel you are standing.

      Emotionally, a close second to Anne Truitt’s White: Four came at Elizabeth Dee, where Josephine Meckseper’s Montara Project (2010) magnified a feeling of entrapment. Constructed out of the horizontal mirrored panels you might see in a sunglasses store on Venice Beach and amplified by a mirrored ceiling above, Montara Project fragments its reflection into scores of horizontal stripes. Reflected in this way, I find myself surrounded by Meckseper’s perverted displays of goods. There are her signature motifs of cars and Cartier, as well as metal display racks bearing chain-like jewelry and men’s boxer briefs. Here, a mirrored wall is devastating. It’s as if, beyond this wall is only more sinister bling. With the wall insistently reflecting my world back at me, it’s difficult to imagine what might be beyond it. An opaque wall may confine the body, but the mirrored wall shuts down the imagination.

      At Horton Gallery came my encounter with one of history’s famous walls, the Berlin Wall. The two-person exhibition included four paintings by Daniel Rich, and a few photographs and a slow, simple video by Wieland Speck documenting a 1978 performance. Speck’s video Berlin Off/On Wall depicts a young man, Per Lüke, dressed in all white, playing the harp while perched atop the Berlin Wall. A crowd gathers, apparently on both sides of the wall, though the camera’s view is limited from its vantage point on the western side. Inevitably, the police come, wrest the harpist from the wall and disperse the crowd. But for the span of the performance, Lüke plays angel to the crowd, surmounting the wall (the seemingly insurmountable), and revealing its penetrability. Especially in relation to Speck’s video, I was intrigued by one painting of a sealed underground passageway by Rich, but I could have taken or left his three Rusha-esque enamel paintings of Berlin airports. Rich’s Basement/Berlin Wall (2010) unavoidably recalls Anselm Kiefer’s cavernous underground spaces, but with a twist. Here, the passageway has been boarded up, as it fell directly on the demarcation line. The feeling of a doorway replaced with a wall is one of bereavement, a possibility barred by a refusal.

      We speak of building walls instead of bridges, a figure of speech that suggests the close tie between the object (a wall) and the feeling (isolation). With Meckseper’s Montara Project, the isolation is that of maddening entrapment. Rich’s painting captures the losses sustained by building walls, and Speck’s video contains the hope of restoration. Truitt’s White: Four provides the most space for personal projection. Like the walls of a secret garden, it may create a sanctuary. Or, like a hospital room, it may impose sterile confinement. Most of Chelsea’s walls, like many physical and figurative walls in our lives, are designed to be impressive yet inconspicuous. But the work I saw last week in Chelsea shouted wall, and through these works, the psychological impact of walls, whether we notice them or not, became visible. 

      Anne Truitt at Matthew Marks Gallery closed June 26, Josephine Meckseper is on view at Elizabeth Dee Gallery through July 16, and Wieland Speck and Daniel Rich are on view in Berlin at Horton Gallery through July 10.

      Claire Ruud is Associate Director of Fluent~Collaborative.

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