ROBERT BARRY’S Installation at the Bethlehem Baptist Church in Mid Compton, Los Angeles.
A Thomas Solomon exhibition
ART CONCEPT OF NOW
by Rosanna Albertini
EVERYTHING IS PURGED FROM THIS PAINTING
BUT ART, NO IDEAS HAVE ENTERED THIS WORK
Acrylic words on canvas by John Baldessari, 1966-68. I would love to replicated them today, but I can’t. They would become:
NOTHING IS PURGED FROM THIS TEXT ABOUT ART
IDEAS HAVE ENTERED THIS WORK WEARING THE LIQUID DRESS OF THE PRESENT
Conceptual art and minimalism have been the thread sewing my philosophical training in contemporary art, still they light in my mind either the joy of understanding or the certainty that understanding as an abstraction has exploded, and more and more words have become images. Ideas themselves might be hung in Plato’s cave, obscured by a big rock blocking the entrance. We want to live first, think sometimes, maybe, and replace explanations with sensations. The artworks, enhancing our conflict between reasonable goals and inner demons, reveal the immense variety of possible worlds, and signal at the same time the power to regenerate, to expand the very idea of language.
If the page is no longer the privileged garden, other sensory experiences expand the conceptual struggle in different mental spaces. The term conceptual sounds odd because it’s mostly an aura, a breeze around the translation from vague intuitions to physical signs, from calculations to a possible visibility: the new planet, ten times bigger than the earth, has not yet been seen: conceptual astronomy? Why not?
Capital letters grouped into words appear like phantoms on the walls of Los Angeles Bethlehem Baptist Church. I don’t know whether those white words on white walls are a text or not. They climb the walls and seem to be there to be seen, not read. Reading is possible, not mandatory: the art piece has been conceived and realized by artist Robert Barry. The displacement it creates in the visitors, quietly, indirectly, is of the best conceptual texture. Come, recreate yourself in the piece.
The small church was built by Rudolph Schindler in 1944, abandoned and recently restored by Thomas Solomon to become, temporarily, an art temple. The original building was painted red, blue and black; now it’s white. Words turn around the corners, walk up or down in diagonals, or enjoy being upside down. They become luminous limbs of light, while the church functions as a buffer space between the age of books and the time of a phoenix which is still difficult to describe. A virgin landscape in which the idea herself of a church is condemned.
This church is a house, an open place bringing in from the windows the other houses around, flying birds and airplanes, trees, street noise and voices: the opposite of the isolating, hiding place of the past. The human signs on the walls aren’t very different from frescoes, or from the little white hands painted on the walls of a cave by the vanished Anasazi. (See in The Kite https://albertini2014.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/little-white-hands/) Nevertheless, these almost flying words so light, so out of grammatical or syntactic order, are a pulsing image of our beautiful thoughts in a day of freedom, having lunch on an urban soil. Scattered, luminous shadows of the mind’s children, they show the absurdity of our days: vulnerable and obstinate, broken up but shining like the tail of a comet. After all, as the food plates of Allen Ruppersberg’s Cafe made with dirt, leaves and pebbles were uneatable for the mouth, although devoured by the eyes, Robert Barry’s words slip into the eyes to be chewed by the brain, maybe reinvented.