Making It Big


In the early 1970s, the Pop and performance artist Alex Hay left New York City for the rural mining town of Bisbee, Arizona. It was a curious move for an artist so involved in avant-garde dance and Happenings circles: Hay was a regular in Merce Cunningham and Robert Rauschenberg’s choreographed events, and had appeared in the legendary 1966 series “9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering” at the 69th Regiment Armory.

When Hay wasn’t roller-skating with parachutes or wiring his body for sound, he was quietly producing paintings and sculptures featuring enlarged versions of commonplace objects. Eleven of these works are now on view, in Hay’s first solo show anywhere since 1969. Exuding a strong, if faintly musty, aura, they stake a belated claim to Pop’s less familiar territories.

Most of the paintings are dramatically enlarged renderings of throwaway paper products—a receipt, a lined notepad, a blank label. Hay’s process, involving stencils, spray lacquer, and hundreds of meticulous measurements, couldn’t be further from the Factory; he could have used a projection to capture the intricate maze of a Cuban Cigar Seal, but chose not to. The resulting images have a layered, Johns-ian depth. Witness the blizzard-like field of Hay’s Toilet Paper (a subject that also crops up in Gerhard Richter’s paintings of the same year), or the grainy, cinematic pigmentation of his Cash Register Slip.

Two fiberglass sculptures, a five-foot paper bag and a nearly eight-foot paper airplane, recall Claes Oldenburg’s urban monuments—as does a quasi-sculptural fried egg on a plate. Humor aside, the likeness is somewhat misleading: Hay intended his oversize commonplaces to be glimpsed from across the room, collapsing distance while preserving proportion. Applying conceptual rigor to his cartographer’s interest in scale, Hay made a series of measurement-based drawings in the late 1960s; one is on view here. Together with the ephemeral character of his earlier work, it hints at an intensifying frustration with the corporeal object—of which Hay’s retreat from the art world was, in a sense, the logical conclusion.