San Francisco

Blanking Out: Will Rogan at Altman Siegal Gallery

Jazz great Miles Davis once said, “Music exists in the spaces between the notes.” Language provokes us to name and describe empty spaces—like those that exist at the intersection of thought and memory. In Blanking Out, Will Rogan’s exhibition at Altman Siegel Gallery, a combination of sculptures and two-dimensional works reveals that the negative spaces are as important as the objects that create them.

Will Rogan, Cradle to grave (1), 2013; wood, paint, brass, 12.63 x 12.5 x 1.25 in. Courtesy of Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco.

In Rogan’s sculptural works Cradle to the grave (1) (2013) and Cradle to the grave (2) (2013), his deliberate use of geometry creates an illusion bound not by time but by the viewer’s imagination. Perfectly whittled, stained wooden segments, each around the size of a standard wooden ruler, intersect and join in variously angled vertices. A clock face laid across one of the wooden sections bends across it, a clear reference to Salvador Dalí’s painting The Persistence of Memory (1931). While Dalí’s clocks have become almost trite, Rogan’s versions effectively evoke the feeling of losing one’s memory—it slowly slips away, eluding our grasp. These poetic, minimal works give tangible form to the voids in our thought patterns. Though these pieces appear effortlessly put together, a close examination reveals their thoughtful construction. Rogan’s sculptures speak to the silences between words, those quiet segments of life rarely explored in our fast paced, cut-and-paste culture: the moments in between status updates, before the finger swipes against a device.

Will Rogan, Blanking Out, 2013 Installation view. Courtesy of Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco.

In direct conversation with the Cradle works are Rogan’s untitled mobile pieces. Suspended from the gallery ceiling, each of their elements—from triangular pieces of wood to painted prisms—hangs from translucent strings. The perspective constantly changes as one walks underneath and through these works. They do not stay still; their movements are barely perceptible but still significant. Rogan painted the top portions of each prism, creating a visual effect that mimics a pair of eyes unfocused in its gaze. Precarious and appearing to float magically above the viewer, these untitled works are constantly in flux. Each figure seems to represent a stanza to some forgotten poem, a word that has yet to be spoken, or a phrase on the cusp of enunciation. Much like poetry, Rogan’s meticulously constructed works are deliberate and require the viewer to ignite meaning between their components. Just as one reads and rereads a poem, it is possible to view these works multiple times and gain a different perspective at each turn. The spaces and lapses of time are emphasized as the viewer’s position and presence shifts.

Will Rogan, Double zero, 2013, Wood, paint, brass, 37 1/4 x 1 x 3/4 in. Detail view, Courtesy of Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco.

Simplicity and repetition formally unify Rogan’s works. In Double Zero (2013), we find a single domino balanced on top of a long, thin wooden stick. Delicately placed and perched, it looks to be on the verge of falling over, as though it could topple with the slightest movement. How is it balanced? The domino’s lack of numbers makes it a nonentity—a double nothingness—that draws our attention toward the total architecture of the space. Each piece calls out not only its presence but also the negative space it creates, contributing to a succinct visual language in which the spaces and voids between objects become just as important as the objects themselves.

Will Rogan, Untitled, 2013, Wood, paint, brass, string, beeswax, 64 x 120 x 54 in. Courtesy of Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco.

The title of the exhibition, Blanking Out, recalls a familiar phrase often used to discuss memory. Using subtle forms, Rogan constructs a variation between the spaces and the voids that we normally dismiss as absolute nothingness. There is something timeless, boundless, and symbiotic about their relationships. Simple in composition, the thoughtful works engage in direct conversation with the viewer, constantly moving and shifting, mimicking motion and thought. It is in the blank and negative spaces where we begin to understand the relationships between object and self. There we can perceive and interrogate the spaces between thought and action, as Rogan gives shape and form to the intangible.

Will Rogan’s exhibition Blanking Out was on view at Altman Siegal from February 21 – April 13, 2013. This author of this review is Dorothy Santos, contributing writer for’s partnering site, Art Practical.