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At Paul Kasmin, Minimalism Does a Comic Turn

May 22, 2015

Blake Gopnik

THE DAILY PIC (#1315): The show called “Brancusi: Pioneer of American Minimalism", at Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York, is gorgeous and uplifting. (The exhibition has earned the gallery its third Daily Pic in a row.) Superb works by Brancusi himself, but also by Carl Andre, Donald Judd and a few of their pals, all look stunning in the gallery's light-filled space. For the first time that I've noticed, they also all look … funny. The show somehow brings out a comic side that that I've never noticed in minimalism, but that makes the movement seem more impressive and varied than ever.

The fun begins with a Brancusi called Jeune Fille Sophistiquée (shown below) a piece that I can't say I've seen in the flesh before now. Conceived in 1928, it has a blobby look that mirrors the whimsy in Betty Boop, born just a couple of years later. That fun is catching: you turn the corner and take in a Brancusi Coq that now seems more naughty and tumescent than ever.

The echt American minimalism of decades  later also starts feeling lighter than air – even when it's made of thousands of pounds of wood, like Carl Andre's  War and Rumours of War, from 2002, which despite its title now evokes a playground maze as much as a major sculptural monument. (Compared to that room-filling work, Andre's Steel Piece or Steel Pair, a tchotchke-sized object from 1961, feels like the shrunken Stonehenge from Spinal Tap – overwhelming ambition improbably vested in a tiny thing.)

There is an absurdist streak in all minimal art, and there's no need for even its biggest fans to deny it. Trying to make something from (almost) nothing is a peculiar thing to do, as close to Dada pranksterism as to highfalutin formalist expression. Seen in this lively light, Dan Flavin's pink and green fluorescent tubes evoke a fun fair; the stuttering arcs of Ellsworth Kelly's 38-foot Eastmore Mural read as a bare few frames pulled from a Saturday-morning cartoon, abstract only because we don't get to see enough of them, and promising more fun if we could. 

(Carl Andre  artwork © VAGA, New York; Frank Stella artwork  © 2015 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York); Constantin Brancusi artwork © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris)

 


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