John McCracken

In conjunction with the first European—and most comprehensive—retrospective of John McCracken’s (1934–2011) work, the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art has produced a catalogue that chronicles not only his artworks but also his place in the art world. The exhibition (on view through June 19) inaugurates a new series of retrospectives showcasing “artists who, for various reasons, have chosen to follow an independent approach but who, like [McCracken] are making waves in international contemporary art.” Although McCracken is frequently compared to such artists as Carl Andre and Donald Judd, the catalogue emphasizes his presence outside of Minimalism. With 232 illustrations, three essays, two interviews, and excerpts from 29 other authors, John McCracken is an extensive text describing a 50-year career.

Alex Farquharson discusses the progression of McCracken’s career and its relationship to Minimalism. Using texts by Judd, McCracken, and Robert Morris, Farquharson shows why the West Coast artist is included in what was primarily a New York-based movement, but he differentiates McCracken’s views—and, by extension, his work—from those of his contemporaries. Marc-Oliver Wahler’s essay seeks to establish a new language for discussing McCracken’s art. In order to avoid the “presupposed language” of the art world, he looks for a different lens, incorporating McCracken’s views on extraterrestrials and science fiction. The catalogue also contains two interviews—one between McCracken and Castello di Rivoli assistant curator Marianna Vecellio and another between John Armleder and curatorial advisor Daniel Baumann.

All of the essays address the question of how to classify McCracken. Seemingly indifferent to the question of classification and labels, McCracken never rejected the Minimalist label: “These are art terms and I wasn’t thinking about art terms. All I wanted to do was to reduce what I was doing, to pare it down to the essentials, which led me to finally consider the Planks at one point…I wanted them to be as simple as possible but also beautiful, and sort of captivating.”

Included among the 232 illustrations are some of McCracken’s sketches and a “chronology and anthology” with excerpts by Lucy Lippard, John Coplans, Kynaston McShrine, David Pagel, and many others. The sketches and artist’s notes provide valuable insight into McCracken’s process and artistic evolution. The illustrations span a 48-year period, from his earliest paintings to the un-Minimalist mandalas, from the geometric blocks to the famous Planks—including some of the rarely seen multicolored Planks. Moving beyond the most iconic McCracken sculptures, the catalogue strives to live up to the artist’s own words. “What I try to do is to form gestalts which are individualistic and also infinitely variable. While one could say that the elements used are form, color and surface, the sculptures cannot be fully described without also referring to the various changing environmental conditions.”

The museum’s upcoming retrospectives will elucidate its goals for the series, but the John McCracken catalogue documents a good first attempt. Ideally these retrospectives will allow us to consider artists as a whole, looking at the evolution of their careers rather than the cherry-picked works that supposedly define them.

Beth Wilson

Book Information:
John McCracken
Edited by Andrea Bellini and Marianna Vecellio
Milan: Skira, 2011
264 pages, 232 illustrations € 49.00
ISBN: 978-885-7207766

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