|Louise Bourgeois / Michael Heizer, |
Robert Morris / Richard Serra / Lee Ufan
|Dia Beacon |
3 Beekman Street, New York 12508
“Every day,” Louise Bourgeois said, “you have to abandon your past or accept it, and then, if you cannot accept it, you become a sculptor.” For her, making art entails trying to translate experience into form—an operation that she compares with exorcism. In Bourgeois’s works on view in these galleries, organic formations fuse with the inorganic materiality of the media in which they are rendered, be it marble, wood, or bronze. The artist’s repertoire of materials spans traditional media and new textures, such as latex and synthetic resin. In her work, representation often entails the creation of a surrogate for the body and its suffering organs.
Though Michael Heizer began his career as a painter, he is best known for the monumental sculptural works he began making in the 1960s. Deeply concerned with archeology, ecology, and the natural landscape, he uses stone and steel as his primary materials. Often cutting into and expunging parts of the landscape, Heizer developed the concept of a “negative sculpture,” where the presence of the work of art is made palpable precisely through its material absence.
Heizer’s first negative sculpture, North, East, South, West (1967/2002) was conceived as a series of four geometric pits. The title’s use of the cardinal points is a reflection of the artist’s interest in the discrepancies between mapped and actual space. The work was conceived and partially executed in 1967 as North and South. Decades after these two components were dismantled, Dia commissioned Heizer to produce the complete series as a permanent installation for Dia Beacon. Installed in a neighboring gallery, Heizer’s Negative Megalith #5 (1998), a large stone entombed in a wall cutout, opens up similar questions. Though carefully contained, the towering work creates a sense of looming danger.
Robert Morris moved to New York City in 1959, where he studied art history and was active in the experimental dance and performance scene through the Judson Dance Theater in Greenwich Village. While building props for and choreographing performances, he developed an interest in embodied perception, which he then explored through his pioneering sculptural practice. As early as 1961, he was engaging viewers in sculptural experiences that unfolded in real time and actual space. Between 1962 and 1964, Morris produced seven simple plywood sculptures that were originally intended for his landmark 1964 exhibition at the Green Gallery in New York. Set on the floor or in relation to the gallery’s walls, these polyhedrons defined the gallery’s architecture as sculpture rarely had before, directing a viewer’s focus to the space of the gallery itself. With this body of work, Morris introduced a Minimal art that was fundamentally sculptural and intended to draw attention to the contingencies of space and site.
A pioneer of the Mono-ha movement in Japan, Lee Ufan developed a sculptural practice in the 1960s that explored the tension between natural and man-made materials and the dialogue between object and space. In 1972 he changed the titles of the works that he had made up to that point to Relatum, referring to a concept in Heideggerian philosophy, which conveyed the artist’s interest in contingent circumstances. His use of “Relatum” can be compared to the frequent use of “untitled” by American Minimal artists.
The exhibition at Dia Beacon, resulting from close collaboration with the artist, showcases Dia’s 2017 acquisition of three sculptural works by Lee – Relatum (formerly System, 1969), Relatum (formerly Language, 1971), and Relatum (1974)—alongside several important loans. Relatum (formerly System, 1969), one of Lee’s earliest Mono-ha sculptures, is composed of six steel plates that are bent at ninety-degree angles and positioned evocatively in relationship to the gallery’s architecture. Relatum (formerly Language, 1971) juxtaposes two diametrically opposite materials, pairing seven thick, soft cushions with large boulders. In Relatum (1974), a long wooden beam is suspended above a steel plate by a thick length of rope in a seemingly precarious arrangement that captures the interconnectedness of various materials; a defining principle of Mono-ha.
Richard Serra has consistently and rigorously probed issues fundamental to sculpture over a career now spanning nearly six decades. In the late 1960s he introduced “process” into his sculptural practice by making explicit the means of his production. Between 1967 and 1968 Serra penned a list of transitive verbs, which he applied to new and innovative materials to make sculptures. Serra’s Scatter Piece (1968) is an example of this, consisting of rubber strips randomly distributed throughout the gallery. Serra’s work is on long-term view across five galleries at Dia Beacon.
Throughout his career, Serra’s work engaged with “ways of relating movement to material and space.” These concerns remained central to the steel sculptures he made in the 1990s and early 2000s. Ranging from Elevation Wedge (2001), a ramp that subtly inclines the floor of the gallery, to his monumental Torqued Ellipses series, these large installations of contorted steel plates elaborate concerns with orientation and movement, destabilizing our experience of space as we attempt to comprehend each sculptural volume. They are part of Serra’s investigation into the embodied experience of perception.