Art Fag City at Art Agenda: Trisha Donnelly at Casey Kaplan

by Paddy Johnson on June 14, 2010 · 16 comments Reviews


trisha donnelly, art fag city
Trisha Donnelly at Casey Kaplan Gallery, Installation view

It’s official. I’m a contributor at Art-Agenda, a new online review forum brought to you by the good folks at e-flux.  The monthly publication is great news in my books; there aren’t enough online venues dedicated to producing clear, thoughtful reviews and Art-Agenda offers just this.

In this issue I discuss the Trisha Donnelly show at Casey Kaplan. The teaser below.

Is a lot of empty space and a couple of big slabs of marble enough to unify an exhibition? Almost certainly yes, which is also the problem: it's too easy to make a show look cohesive when there's not much in it. For her fourth solo show at Casey Kaplan, Trisha Donnelly sparsely arranged a few stone sculptures—relics from the fourth (and relatively empty) dimension.

In the first gallery, front and center, there's an angular pink stone with two ridged scooped out areas on either side. Mounted on two 2x4s, it resembled a seashell, temporarily beached here. In the following room is what looks like a fossil or victim of some mechanical penetration, the scars of the brutal equipment meant to harvest unnamed riches laid bare. When the show was first installed, a small amount of water left from the wetted blades used to cut the stone lay suggestively in the stone's cracks. (I was disappointed when the gallery director Loring Randolph told me there was no intended meaning behind this; the water was gone when I returned.)

To read the full piece click here.

  • http://thomashellstrom.net ernstwhere

    Good to see you’ll be writing for Art Agenda, I appreciate receiving their notices. Re: Donnelly, while I find her work esoteric I don’t mind informing myself. I requested a press release and was told none would be prepared at the artist’s request. Instead an email would be sent to interested parties with links, etc to elaborate on the show’s themes. I received the email telling me there would be no email. Still not sure what to make of the exchange.

  • http://thomashellstrom.net ernstwhere

    Good to see you’ll be writing for Art Agenda, I appreciate receiving their notices. Re: Donnelly, while I find her work esoteric I don’t mind informing myself. I requested a press release and was told none would be prepared at the artist’s request. Instead an email would be sent to interested parties with links, etc to elaborate on the show’s themes. I received the email telling me there would be no email. Still not sure what to make of the exchange.

  • http://www.jessepatrickmartin.blogspot.com Jesse P. Martin

    Given that every piece in the show is untitled (except for “The Secretary”), the ultra-specific materials that comprise her sculptures seem to be the only “Rosetta Stones” available: Rose of Portugal, black portoro, travertine, quartzite. I don’t have a geological bent, but Wikipedia shows that these materials are all different but essentially related – and all of them are most frequently used as building and/or decorative materials (like in a Chelsea gallery).

    Given that it’s the only titled piece (and that ernstwhere was twice denied supplemental text support – thrice if he endeavors to “Download Press Release” from the exhibition page), “The Secretary” seems worth pursuing etymologically (rather than geologically). “Secretary” comes from the Latin word for “secret,” so your guess at Donnelly’s “modus operandi” remains intact. It’s interesting that she’s placed the anachronistic desk right in front of the gallery’s modernist slab, which seems oddly more related to Donnelly’s stone sculptures than its wooden cousin. The aestheticized “inert” desk reads even more as a dead, redundant object – thereby suggesting the same for the “living” desk that it’s been placed in front of (though it’s also implied, conversely, that the gallery desk has replaced the wooden one as the more “progressive,” “useful” object). Given that the rest of the ancient-artifact-looking sculptures are constructed solely from still-used construction materials, it seems that the “secret” of the show is how Donnelly is mutely reaffirming the redundancies and “uselessness” of the gallery space itself – but also how the gallery weirdly transmutes expressly useful objects into seemingly useless ones.

  • http://www.jessepatrickmartin.blogspot.com Jesse P. Martin

    Given that every piece in the show is untitled (except for “The Secretary”), the ultra-specific materials that comprise her sculptures seem to be the only “Rosetta Stones” available: Rose of Portugal, black portoro, travertine, quartzite. I don’t have a geological bent, but Wikipedia shows that these materials are all different but essentially related – and all of them are most frequently used as building and/or decorative materials (like in a Chelsea gallery).

    Given that it’s the only titled piece (and that ernstwhere was twice denied supplemental text support – thrice if he endeavors to “Download Press Release” from the exhibition page), “The Secretary” seems worth pursuing etymologically (rather than geologically). “Secretary” comes from the Latin word for “secret,” so your guess at Donnelly’s “modus operandi” remains intact. It’s interesting that she’s placed the anachronistic desk right in front of the gallery’s modernist slab, which seems oddly more related to Donnelly’s stone sculptures than its wooden cousin. The aestheticized “inert” desk reads even more as a dead, redundant object – thereby suggesting the same for the “living” desk that it’s been placed in front of (though it’s also implied, conversely, that the gallery desk has replaced the wooden one as the more “progressive,” “useful” object). Given that the rest of the ancient-artifact-looking sculptures are constructed solely from still-used construction materials, it seems that the “secret” of the show is how Donnelly is mutely reaffirming the redundancies and “uselessness” of the gallery space itself – but also how the gallery weirdly transmutes expressly useful objects into seemingly useless ones.

  • http://thomashellstrom.net ernstwhere

    Thanks Jesse, this is a compelling line of thought. It might explain the artist’s reticence about the press release, being as it is a major convention of an exhibition. But it’s also a little disappointing that the mystery is institutional critique with objects that are really, really expensive to move.

  • http://thomashellstrom.net ernstwhere

    Thanks Jesse, this is a compelling line of thought. It might explain the artist’s reticence about the press release, being as it is a major convention of an exhibition. But it’s also a little disappointing that the mystery is institutional critique with objects that are really, really expensive to move.

  • http://jessepatrickmartin.blogspot.com/ Jesse P. Martin

    VERY heavy & expensive institutional critique! Though I’m not sure of what to make about the incisions, depressions, and dirt/moss left on the slabs (incidental? decorative? lazy? to look like something was done other than just the hoisting of stones?). I don’t know how much Donnelly was actually involved in the process, but it seems like it could be a fairly “hands-off” affair for the artist – unless you consider selecting hunks of stones to be excavated, shipped, scored/distressed, and installed by someone else as “work.” So maybe this managerial “m.o.” extended to her “decision” to renege on including the supplementary parts (i.e. press-release) of the show, as well.

    And I think that putting the desk in front of the desk is sorta effed-up – it’s like existential despair plopped right in the face of the gallery’s actual secretary.

  • http://jessepatrickmartin.blogspot.com/ Jesse P. Martin

    VERY heavy & expensive institutional critique! Though I’m not sure of what to make about the incisions, depressions, and dirt/moss left on the slabs (incidental? decorative? lazy? to look like something was done other than just the hoisting of stones?). I don’t know how much Donnelly was actually involved in the process, but it seems like it could be a fairly “hands-off” affair for the artist – unless you consider selecting hunks of stones to be excavated, shipped, scored/distressed, and installed by someone else as “work.” So maybe this managerial “m.o.” extended to her “decision” to renege on including the supplementary parts (i.e. press-release) of the show, as well.

    And I think that putting the desk in front of the desk is sorta effed-up – it’s like existential despair plopped right in the face of the gallery’s actual secretary.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @Jesse P. Martin: I think Donnelly did most of the work herself. The gallerist spoke as if she had any way — I think I remember her saying that she had to learn how to use the equipement.

    This bit:

    Given that the rest of the ancient-artifact-looking sculptures are constructed solely from still-used construction materials, it seems that the “secret” of the show is how Donnelly is mutely reaffirming the redundancies and “uselessness” of the gallery space itself – but also how the gallery weirdly transmutes expressly useful objects into seemingly useless ones.

    I don’t mean to be obtuse, but can you explain this a little more? How do the still-used construction materials of Chelsea reaffirm the uselessness of the gallery space?

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @Jesse P. Martin: I think Donnelly did most of the work herself. The gallerist spoke as if she had any way — I think I remember her saying that she had to learn how to use the equipement.

    This bit:

    Given that the rest of the ancient-artifact-looking sculptures are constructed solely from still-used construction materials, it seems that the “secret” of the show is how Donnelly is mutely reaffirming the redundancies and “uselessness” of the gallery space itself – but also how the gallery weirdly transmutes expressly useful objects into seemingly useless ones.

    I don’t mean to be obtuse, but can you explain this a little more? How do the still-used construction materials of Chelsea reaffirm the uselessness of the gallery space?

  • http://www.jessepatrickmartin.blogspot.com Jesse P. Martin

    I said “still-used” because everything Donnelly exhibits in this show has an anachronistic look to it, as if it’s all old stuff that’s no longer in use. Of course, the materials are pretty timeless (i.e., marble), but she’s managed to make them appear as if they’re on the older side of timeless (though the blade-cut scores are contemporary markings).

    All of Donnelly’s materials are excavated to be used primarily as actual functioning, structural building materials (like, to build a building), not to be sparsely and arcanely arranged like relics in a Chelsea gallery (although many of the materials are also used for “decorative” purposes). This isn’t to say that I think there’s a “correct” way to use quartzite, or that Donnelly wasn’t building a structure – just that she isn’t using it in the way that most quartzite buyers would, which one might conventionally describe as “useful.” Frankly, if I had a hunk of quartzite, I’d probably just lean it up against a wall, too.

    But all of these assumptions came from “The Secretary” (the “control center” of the show) being placed right in front of the gallery’s front desk, which is arguably the “brain” of the actual gallery (at least superficially). Placing a desk in front of a desk – but as a work of art – renders “The Secretary” desk as doubly useless. There’s already a desk there, so it’s an unnecessary duplication. Because it’s presented as “art,” it becomes aestheticized and therefore isn’t supposed to be used/touched, so it’s denied its inherent functionality. One could argue that the rest of the show’s pieces “function” in the same way: building materials are arranged cryptically in a gallery space (which is probably built from some of those same materials) to be experienced as aesthetic monoliths, thereby denying their intended “usefulness.” A gallery constructed from expensive building materials (with a modern front desk) presents artworks made from similar expensive building materials (though made to look like relics), including an old-fashioned desk. One could argue that all art – particularly “traditional” forms – engage in mimesis, but in this case, Donnelly’s show seems especially mimetic.

    I know this is exhaustive and convoluted, but so is the show; pointedly so, I think.

  • http://www.jessepatrickmartin.blogspot.com Jesse P. Martin

    I said “still-used” because everything Donnelly exhibits in this show has an anachronistic look to it, as if it’s all old stuff that’s no longer in use. Of course, the materials are pretty timeless (i.e., marble), but she’s managed to make them appear as if they’re on the older side of timeless (though the blade-cut scores are contemporary markings).

    All of Donnelly’s materials are excavated to be used primarily as actual functioning, structural building materials (like, to build a building), not to be sparsely and arcanely arranged like relics in a Chelsea gallery (although many of the materials are also used for “decorative” purposes). This isn’t to say that I think there’s a “correct” way to use quartzite, or that Donnelly wasn’t building a structure – just that she isn’t using it in the way that most quartzite buyers would, which one might conventionally describe as “useful.” Frankly, if I had a hunk of quartzite, I’d probably just lean it up against a wall, too.

    But all of these assumptions came from “The Secretary” (the “control center” of the show) being placed right in front of the gallery’s front desk, which is arguably the “brain” of the actual gallery (at least superficially). Placing a desk in front of a desk – but as a work of art – renders “The Secretary” desk as doubly useless. There’s already a desk there, so it’s an unnecessary duplication. Because it’s presented as “art,” it becomes aestheticized and therefore isn’t supposed to be used/touched, so it’s denied its inherent functionality. One could argue that the rest of the show’s pieces “function” in the same way: building materials are arranged cryptically in a gallery space (which is probably built from some of those same materials) to be experienced as aesthetic monoliths, thereby denying their intended “usefulness.” A gallery constructed from expensive building materials (with a modern front desk) presents artworks made from similar expensive building materials (though made to look like relics), including an old-fashioned desk. One could argue that all art – particularly “traditional” forms – engage in mimesis, but in this case, Donnelly’s show seems especially mimetic.

    I know this is exhaustive and convoluted, but so is the show; pointedly so, I think.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @Jesse P. Martin: I like your read.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @Jesse P. Martin: I like your read.

  • http://jessepatrickmartin.blogspot.com/ Jesse P. Martin

    @AFC: Thank you – your review definitely inspired me to think about the work in a different way. I especially liked your looking for a “Rosetta Stone” – despite Donnelly’s virtual “textlessness,” it suggested to me that maybe greater emphasis should be placed on the little bits of text that she did provide. It’s such a spare show, but that also makes what’s there seem all the more significant (though I agree that that’s also one of minimalism’s greatest tricks: that actual “emptiness” is inversely-proportional to the “conceptual” weight of a given piece/show).

  • http://jessepatrickmartin.blogspot.com/ Jesse P. Martin

    @AFC: Thank you – your review definitely inspired me to think about the work in a different way. I especially liked your looking for a “Rosetta Stone” – despite Donnelly’s virtual “textlessness,” it suggested to me that maybe greater emphasis should be placed on the little bits of text that she did provide. It’s such a spare show, but that also makes what’s there seem all the more significant (though I agree that that’s also one of minimalism’s greatest tricks: that actual “emptiness” is inversely-proportional to the “conceptual” weight of a given piece/show).

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