Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Jackie Winsor at Paula Cooper Gallery

October 25-November 29, 2008
534 West 21st Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 212 255 1105

Jackie Winsor Circle/Square 1987. Concrete, pigment, 34 x 34 x 34 inches. Cover, NOVEMBER 2008: Pink and Blue Piece, 1985.  Mirror, wood, paint, cheesecloth, 31 x 31 x 31 inches.  images © J.Winsor, Courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
Jackie Winsor Circle/Square 1987. Concrete, pigment, 34 x 34 x 34 inches. Images © J.Winsor, Courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Somehow Jackie Winsor has had the ability to transform Minimalist vocabulary into something rich and strange and unlike the work of her fellow travelers from the period of the late 1960s. In a first-rate, if somewhat spare, exhibition at Paula Cooper, the examples of art range from a rope piece that was made in 1969 to three open cubes, created in the mid to late 1980s, to her inset wall works, the most recent of which was constructed in 2001-02. The main gallery had only four pieces in it—the rope piece and the cubes, while the small gallery offered a number of the insets. This anthology amounts to a miniature retrospective of one of the most interesting sculptors to be working in New York; much of Winsor’s originality derives from her enigmatic yet evocative treatment of form, which conceals as much as it reveals.

Winsor’s inspired rope trick, titled Dark Vertical Cylinder (1969), is 85 inches tall and 12 inches in diameter. Overtly phallic, the work is also about sculptural self-sufficiency: the thick ripe seems to spiral upward without end, supported mysteriously from within. In this sculpture as in other works, Winsor works brilliantly with the notions of interior and exterior, turning her cubes into containers of an interior that remains unknown to us.  Winsor’s skill in obtaining mystery from small openings and narrow insets conflate the surface of painting with the volume of sculpture, in a way that seamlessly melds the two. Dark Vertical Cylinderfocuses on the rope’s surface even as it poses questions about what lies within (galvanized tin and wire). In its hierarchical lyricism, the work suggests that its meaning is found not so much in close description as in the appreciation of its ability to hold space—a concern occurring in Winsor’s other pieces in the show.

The artist’s cubes also explore notions of the interior with those of the periphery. Winsor’sPink and Blue Piece (1985), 31 inches in all directions, consists of mirrors banded by pink-painted wood; each of the sides has a small square opening in its center. The gallery’s floor is reflected by the mirrored surfaces of the sculpture—one looks down at them from a standing position. But the viewer also sees the ceiling in the reflective surface of the top of the cube. What is hidden within? We hardly know, and yet we experience enjoyment in the work’s mystery. Circle Square (1987) makes its mark as a concrete form whose overall gestalt is that of a cube without sharp edges. On each side there is a circular opening, into which a series of stepped rectangular edges has cut, ending with a small red square. Again, the viewer looks down from above and tries, futilely, to understand what the internal center consists of. The puzzle remains unsolved.

The gallery’s selection of inset wall pieces shows Winsor tackling the relationship—or rather the difference–between painting and sculpture. Inset Wall Piece Black Plaster with Black Stepped Inset (1995) consists of a gridded frame surrounding an inset of a few inches: the work is five inches deep, although the surface of the frame appears to be flush with the wall. Winsor’s audience naturally wonders about what is happening on the other, inner side of the piece, and assumes that a hole has been carved out of the wall. We are not certain, however, that this is so, and our doubt leads to the question whether we are seeing a two- or a three-dimensional work of art. Winsor has us speculating, on an abstract level, about the nature of painting and sculpture through the simple device of a surface with a cutout in its center—an approach she repeats in the black or white inserts on exhibit. In the aftermath of our contemplation, we, like Winsor herself, become a bit like philosophers of form.