Robert Hudson and Cornelia Schulz are not the disparate entities you might think. Both improvise freely with things they find or fabricate: she with shaped, painted canvases that split the difference between Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism; he with witty assemblages of repurposed industrial detritus that extend a tradition that runs from Duchamp and Schwitters to Rauschenberg, Calder and beyond. It’s one of this year’s best gallery exhibits.
Schulz, for her part, has moved far since her appearance here in 2010. Interlocking geometric forms still play a leading role, as do the bolted-together, shaped canvases that link her to the legacy of Frank Stella and Elizabeth Murray. The conjoined shapes – which resemble fans, figure-8s, ziggurats and boomerangs — remain. But the plastic activity inside them, which previously recalled ceramic glazes and alluded to volcanic landscapes seen from the air, is gone. In its place are swaths of pigment that have been teased to a froth, recalling any number of heavy-impasto painters – from Soutine to the Bay Area abstractionists that Schulz probably encountered early in her career, in the late 50s and early 60s. It’s a dazzling move that I suspect has produced more than a few double takes.
The biggest of these sculptural canvases measures 13 x 15 inches. Inside their narrow bounds, Schulz stages grandiloquent gestures – gestures that appear as magnified details of some larger, unseen drama. By foreclosing associations that might appear at a larger scale, the artist brings us face-to-face with inchoate gobs of mixed pigment: colliding color swatches, creamy arabesques that flip, twirl and dance and scraped layers that recall the high-toned abstract works of Gerhard Richter. At first glance they look like incoherent jumbles, but close inspection reveals them to be precisely plotted, perfectly scaled and spatially resolved.
The question raised is whether paint, liberated from content and context, can be a worthy subject. With Schulz it is. She recalibrates conventional expectations of what painting is supposed to be, which, in turn, focus our attention on paint in its raw and unruly state. By situating these sumptuous manipulations inside shaped canvases, Schulz validates an approach that, in a conventional format, would probably be dismissed out-of-hand.
Robert Hudson also deals in disjunctions, most having to do with juxtapositions of weight, shape and volume in metal sculptures that, in ‘60s and ‘70s, made him a leading figure in Northern California Funk.
Vestiges of that period survive in a few of the works on view, but mostly what we see is an exquisite poetry of the absurd that ties him to his close cohort, William Wiley, and to the larger tradition of Dadaist/Surrealist assemblage.
The strongest, most evocative works on view here are from his recent Mask series. They’re gyroscopic-looking constructions built of circular forms that look kinetic (even when they not), and feel as if they might be useful for nautical or interplanetary navigation. Think of John Chamberlain channeling Copernicus through a filter of Pablo Picasso during the latter’s primitivist phase and you get some idea of the industrial/cosmic/tribal vibe emanating from these objects. Categorizing or even cataloging the components (car parts, sheet metal, bronze-cast animals, rocks and industrial detritus) is difficult; Hudson, as always, delights in making things complex. Further, he makes the work look easy, as if the pieces fell together naturally, through some mysterious centrifugal force that causes them to adhere to his circle-based armatures.
That graceful coherence has led more than a few critics to peg Hudson as a formalist. But that sells him short. Judging from his amazing and sometimes gravity-defying juxtapositions of unrelated objects, I’d say monkey wrenching the Modernist mind is Hudson’s true occupation.
Both artists, now in their ‘70s, are truly original voices, and both are operating at the top of their respective games.
–DAVID M. ROTH
“In Conversation": Robert Hudson & Cornelia Schulz @ Patricia Sweetow through July 7, 2012
David Roth says
Susan: Thank you for taking time out to write. The collages, while beautiful and well-crafted, didn’t interest me nearly as much as the new work which I felt was groundbreaking.
I could have said as much, and at least acknowledged them, but at this moment brevity seems to be the order of the day.
Susan Keizer says
I like the review but am curious why you didn’t mention Cornelia’s collages which I think are a very interesting counterpoint to the paintings, the collages and paintings being a kind of yin and yang of impulses.