The Ruling Class: Seeking the Poetic Potential of Neutral Signs


Exemplified by Frank Stella, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, and Robert Mangold, the rule-based art of the 1960s strove to achieve abstract, self-referential forms that often privileged process over content. These days, contemporary artists like Keith Tyson, Tara Donovan, Jonathan Monk, Andrea Zittel, and Julie Mehretu employ such logic-driven strategies to a different end, overwhelmed by a culture obsessed with information, global identity, and scientific advances. All of the above-mentioned artists are represented in this superb exhibition, which brings together loaned works and little-seen gems in a museum-quality show that assembles over 60 works. If the usually spacious galleries of PaceWildenstein feel almost stuffed, it doesn’t matter. In this case, more is more.

As the title conveys, the exhibition spans some 40 years of work, and its broadly interpreted theme casts a wide net, including artists one wouldn’t initially expect to find here—Warhol, Koons, Holzer, and Nauman among the wild cards. And this is the show’s real strength. Such an expansive view animates and recontextualizes the more obvious choices, so that Warhol’s notion of the artist as machine and Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s elegiac takeaway pieces, assume new meanings, invigorating the sometimes cold intellectualism of artists like Mel Bochner and Hanne Darboven.

The earliest works are geometric paintings by Josef Albers and Ad Reinhardt, both tonal abstractions from 1958. The former’s influence on the latter, certainly no mystery, has a unique resonance in relation to Marcel Broodthaers, Charles Ray, and Vik Muniz, all of whom similarly seek the poetic potential of neutral signs. Many more unexpected kinships and revelations can be found in this exhibition, whose accompanying catalog, beautifully designed, provides further illumination.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 8, 2005

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