Any combining, mixing, adding, diluting, exploiting, vulgarizing or popularizing of abstract art deprives art of its essence and depraves the artist's artistic consciousness. Art is free, but it is not a free-for-all. The one struggle in art is the struggle of artists against artists, of artist against artist, of the artist-as-artist within and against the artist-as-man, -animal or -vegetable. Artists who claim their artwork comes from nature, life, reality, earth or heaven, as “mirrors of the soul” or “reflections of conditions” or “instruments of the universe,” who cook up “new images of man”—figures and “nature-in-abstraction”—pictures, are subjectively and objectively, rascals or rustics. -Donald Judd, American Dialog, Vol. 1-5
Donald Judd was an exquisite contrarian. Call him a minimalist and he’d say, no, he wasn’t. To be fair, the term itself was widely rejected by artists working at this narrow-end of the artistic spectrum, and so it was only natural that what started out as an explanation of the work, became the rules that governed both its wider understanding and presentation. Looking back, what’s become clear is that the dialogues that emerged from this era were as intrinsic to the work (from the artist’s perspective) as the work itself. In part, it was the apparatus of distinction—the breaking with old ideas that felt stale and over-used. It was a carving down to the essential nature of an object that interested Judd, but it required sensitivity to some rules-based order.
At Montserrat College of Art, Franklin Evans has expertly taken Judd’s advisories to heart, if not literally, in an installation called juddrules that continuously sweeps across the entire gallery like an elegant wave of ordered form and natural chaos. What Evans captures is the tensions that fill out the interior life of a painting, informed by biography, color and a wide array of materials. As Judd said, “Art is free, but is not a free-for-all.” And Evans’ highly structured/unstructured homage to him adheres brilliantly to Judd’s sage and cautionary directive.
Indeed, what Evans accomplishes is allowing the viewer inside the deliberate mosaic of the creative process. Everything is laid bare and yet the work is fully cohesive. Evans uses tape to mark, set borders and string like connective tissue. It hangs from the ceiling, slashes across painted surfaces and stands in for line, gesture and mark-making. Its very flimsiness becomes its strength, in architecture forms that feel permanent and deliberate.
Evans situates several metal folding chairs throughout the exhibition to enable viewers to take in specific channels of the work. One view opens and closes like a stretch of roller coaster track bracketed by vertical lines of tape. Here, the artist asks you to take a journey with him, and as your eyes move down this sliver of the overall installation, the information he has placed in the corridor begins to speed up before a gentle upward curve slows it down again.
Seated in another chair, there’s a broader view of the work. Here, one begins to see a long, interconnected, painting take shape. It isn’t so much the intersection of painting and sculpture, but it’s the intersection of a painting with you in it—under you, beside you and above you. It is like being injected into the very essence of the work. The forms are so organic and natural that they make no specific claims as a single gesture but instead inform the whole. Everything is balanced and the absence of any visual neediness is the fulcrum upon which it all rides. The stability and control of the application of ideas inherent to creating the work are exposed and an interior monologue emerges. It is one in which the artist engages with the ideas of another artist while writing an autobiography of sorts, about himself, or if you will a form of portraiture about the absorption and consumption of ideas.
It begins here with Judd and transforms itself fully into Evans. What Judd allows, Evans expands upon. Judd’s rules become markers in Evans’ story. It’s not a question of primacy but rather the natural accrual of information and influence and its reinvestment in new work. Interestingly, one wonders if Judd would find Evans’ approach too unruly, too much the free-for-all he cautioned against. That being said, it is hard to imagine Judd finding fault in the precise nature of Evans’ harnessing of so many disparate elements into such a singular and profound work.
Franklin Evans: juddrules Montserrat Gallery Beverly, MA September 17 – December 13, 2014 montserrat.edu/galleries/montserrat/ http://artnewengland.com/blogs/franklin-evans-juddrules/