Monday, March 1st, 2004

Mia Westerlund Roosen and Kim Jones

Mia Westerlund Roosen: “Namesake,” new sculptures & drawings
Lennon, Weinberg, Inc.
560 Broadway, Ste. 308
New York, NY 10012
phone: 212-941-0012
February 12 to April 3

Kim Jones: “escape from flatland,”
177 North 9th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
13 february–15 march, 2004

Mia Westerlund Roosen Magdalena 2003 concrete, 56 x 37 x 32 inches Courtesy Lennon, Weinberg, New York
Mia Westerlund, Roosen Magdalena 2003 concrete, 56 x 37 x 32 inches Courtesy Lennon, Weinberg, New York

Height precedes width precedes depth – that’s the standard format for describing the size of an artwork. I thought about this simple formula while viewing exhibitions by two outstanding artists that opened this month – Mia Westerlund Roosen at Lennon Weinberg and Kim Jones at Pierogi.

Westerlund Roosen makes ambitious works that, regardless of scale or material, remain adamantly personal. No mean trick, since her sculptures and installations can be very large indeed. By way of example, her last solo exhibition at Lennon Weinberg in 2001 had a concrete piece titled “Fagin” for which the dimensions listed are 108 x 168 x 39-1/2 inches. Her last exhibition at Santa Monica’s Shoshona Wayne Gallery featured “Madam Mao,” an installation largely comprised of trucked in dirt measuring approximately 36 feet by 20 feet by 8 feet high weighing roughly 2 tons. As compared to these earlier shows, her current exhibition at Lennon Weinberg presents five sculptures of far more modest proportions. Titled after famous women – Althea, Cleo, Magdalena, Victoria, and Iris – and all made with poured concrete, the largest of the group, Iris, measures a mere 39-1/2 x 80 x 70 inches, while the smallest, Cleo, is 36-1/2 x 38 x 36 inches, positively petite as Westerlund-Roosen’s go. Still, even the smallest of works exudes a distinct monumentality.

Monumentality, though often associated loosely with bigness, is actually an aspect of presence. While this concept might be difficult to pin-down in art, in popular culture it can often be obvious: the film Lawrence of Arabia is monumental; the Matrix trilogy is just, well, long. Westerlund-Roosen’s works are, nearly without exception, monumental. One can often get a hint of this in the reproductions – even in small photographs without reference points, the sculptures read large and exude mass. In other words, they appear to project their scale.

But what does that mean, to project their scale? Just look at a piece like “Victoria,” (2003): Its human, if rather stout, proportions are readily apparent. And visually, its skin certainly does display a tactile pale gray seductiveness, even to the point of belying its sand molded concrete origins. The idea of projecting scale, of weighing presence, so to speak, would seem to rest on a non-quantifiable aspect. Yet perhaps there is a simple observation that, although extremely subjective, might be agreed upon as measurable nonetheless.

Look at two people as they stand talking. Note that they are about three feet apart which, one would probably agree, seems normal. Any closer and we would say that they are in each others space. It is understood that when it comes to personal space, we do not end at the physical dimensions, but occupy an area approximately eighteen inches to two foot all around us. In other words, while our body may measure six by two by one foot, we actually represent – to ourselves and others – a projected scale measuring eight by six by five foot. (To those who doubt that our projected space extends above our heads as well, I invite you to spend an extended period in a room with seven foot high ceilings.) Different cultures may view personal space as a little smaller or larger, but would any deny its existence?

Inanimate object do not, as a rule, have projected scale. We do not perceive tables or chairs to be larger than their quantifiable dimensions. Not even the automobile, the embodiment of the American Dream, projects scale beyond its bumpers. Yet, just as undeniably, Westerlund-Roosen’s five sculptures in this Lennon Weinberg exhibition do. What’s more, they are not unique in possessing this quality amongst the artist’s body of works, nor even, for that matter among the works of other exceptionally gifted artists.

If people project scale, and most inanimate objects do not, but successful sculptures do, then it should follow that the reason that those sculptures do is because they contain some aspect of human attributes, as intangible as they may be. Which, of course, makes sense – art at its most essential and deep level must be some aspect of the human condition made physical. One could even take this a step further and posit that if an argument can be made that projected scale is an essential criteria for sculpture, then the stronger the artwork, the more powerful the viewer’s impression of projected scale.

No doubt there are other important criteria in appreciating a sculpture’s impact and qualities. But there are few as viscerally satisfying as experiencing monumental sculptures – even ones as modestly proportioned as the five in Westerlund Roosen’s current solo exhibition.

Kim Jones untitled war drawing (triptych) 1993-2004 (installation view and work in progress)  graphite on paper, 38 x 75 inches Courtesy Pierogi 2000, New York
Kim Jones, untitled war drawing (triptych) 1993-2004 (installation view and work in progress) graphite on paper, 38 x 75 inches Courtesy Pierogi 2000, New York

Kim Jones’ dimensional transgressions are, it would seem, more immediately obvious and tangible than projected scale. For his current solo exhibition at Pierogi, he has again presented one of his work-in-progress war drawings/installations. Entitled “escape from flatland,” the piece contains at its center one of Jones’ untitled drawings depicting the artist’s imaginary war of the dots and x’s. The drawing, “Untitled War Drawing (triptych),” (1993-2003), 38 x 75 inches, was finished when the artist affixed it to the wall, but the rest of the drawing, the part extending out from the paper’s edges, across the walls, around the corners, and over the ceiling, is in constant transformation throughout the length of the exhibition.

Jones was given off-hours access to the gallery, and came in regularly to add to the drawing. Near the end of the show, the artist stages a huge battle, one in which a line of predefined length represents cannon fire, and explosions are manifest as, literally, erasures. Joe Amrhein, Pierogi’s director, hasn’t decided yet if he’s going to paint over the wall part of the drawing when it’s over or, more provocatively, seal the drawing under a thin layer of sheetrock.

Clearly Jones work resists easy classification when we think of scale, even if most archivists in this case understandably opt for “dimensions variable” in the measurement line. And into this mix one must add yet another piece of history: Jones was what was called a “Tunnel Rat” in Viet Nam, meaning that he went underground into long, dark, narrow, booby-trapped tunnels searching for Viet Cong. While the nature of the his war drawings would naturally assume an overhead orientation on the part of the viewer, if one were to take a more literal view and see the drawings from the side as they are truly presented how easily they might remind one of those clear plastic ant farms or…those Viet Cong tunnels.

Which raises a more interesting question concerning Jones, for it is not “where is the edge of his work?” but rather “what time frame contains these works?” The date on the untitled drawing covers 10 years, a fairly unusual length of time to engage a single drawing. The artist’s drawings in the second gallery are even more striking in this regard. Having been originally started in 1975, just a few years after Jones returned from duty in Vietnam, they were all recently reworked, as the date on “playboy calendar (may),” (1975-2003), attests.

Kim Jones play boy calendar (may) 1975-2003 color photograph, acrylic, ink, 16-3/4 x 13-3/4 inches
Kim Jones, play boy calendar (may) 1975-2003 color photograph, acrylic, ink, 16-3/4 x 13-3/4 inches

Artists have their own ways of working, but coming back to a series of drawings from twenty-eight years ago and re-engaging them in, apparently, the same spirit as when they were first created is striking. It is also worth noting that all of the Playboy Calendars pages that form the starting point for these drawings date from 1969, which pre-dates Jones’ tour of duty in Vietnam. So we have a body of drawings whose source material is from 1969, which were first worked up in 1975, and were eventually finished in 2003 – that is, if we can have real confidence that the artist won’t pick them up at a later date and have at them once again. Given Jones’ methods, this is a possibility can never be ruled out.

Dating an artwork is not the same thing as measuring its dimensions, but it is a way we mark distance. That is, setting the date of completion on an artwork pegs the object in time to a place which then immediately recedes from us as we move into the future. Through his art, Jones would seem to be making the case that under certain circumstances this measurement might not remain fixed. Instead, a specific moment might expand like a bubble, fusing past and future into a single everlasting present.