Shotgun Reviews

Other Primary Structures at The Jewish Museum

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Vanessa Thill reviews Other Primary Structures at The Jewish Museum in New York City.

Nubuo Sekine. Phase of Nothingness—Water, 1969/2005; steel, lacquer, water; 47 ¼ x 47 ¼ in. (diameter)  and 11 7/8 x 86 5/8 x 63 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Blum & Poe Gallery, New York.

Nubuo Sekine. Phase of Nothingness—Water, 1969/2005; steel, lacquer, water; 47 ¼ x 47 ¼ in. (diameter) and 11 7/8 x 86 5/8 x 63 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Blum & Poe Gallery, New York.

In 1966, the exhibition Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptors filled the Jewish Museum with large-scale Minimalist sculptures of steel and plastic and helped define a generation of artists and a new wave of critique. The original show is now visible as a miniature model in the current exhibition, Other Primary Structures. Divided into two parts, Others 1 examines work from 1960–1967, while Others 2 focuses on work between 1967–1970. Curator Jens Hoffman includes artists from Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East who offer more nuanced approaches to the monolithic style of famous Minimalists like Donald Judd or Robert Morris.

In Others 2, non-industrial materials in a monochrome palette contrast with the bright, pop colors and perfect, smooth forms of the 1966 show. Artists Susumu Koshimizu and Benni Efrat break down the solid platonic cube into familiar textures and unstable structures in their respective works, both created in 1969: Paper and Matter on the Move. Koshimizu’s thin paper cube containing a centrally placed granite rock is echoed in silhouette by Efrat’s work, with its sloping sides of foam inset with a slab of steel. A simple gesture by South Korean Lee Ufan, Relatum (1969) consists of two blank, unstretched canvases placed on the ground next to a third canvas hung on the wall. The space is boldly yet subtly activated by their scale and their position: One can feel the room’s axes, the blank quietude, and the residue of movement. In Jiro Takamatsu’s Slack of Net (1968–1969), loose cotton ropes knotted into a grid form a fishing net, countering the perfect grid structure of modernist painting that continues in Minimalist aesthetics. Slight ripples in the water are created on the surface of two large, black lacquered steel rectangular and cylindrical forms with each approaching movement in Phase of Nothingness—Water (1969), a striking work by Nobuo Sekine.

One soon begins to realize that natural materials like those found in Other Primary Structures are absent from the original exhibition. The economy of materials here seems to offer a view that no surface—however common—is unworthy of attention. Instead of high-gloss chrome and Plexiglas, the use of simple fabric, paper, or rough-hewn rocks in a Minimalist piece asserts that the textures of daily life need not be absent from art. Other Primary Structures presents an other minimalism that does not refuse the beauty of imperfect everyday materials and forms.

Other Primary Structures is on view at the Jewish Museum in New York City through August 3, 2014.

Vanessa Thill is an artist, curator, and writer based in New York.