The third floor at the Whitney opens to Wade Guyton’s untitled 2006 U series—five Epson UltraChrome inkjet on linen iterations of semi-abstract images of flames and floating capital U letters on black. My first impression is that these are reproductions with imperfections. I am not immediately interested. Furthermore, they did not seem original or sculptural. However, the exhibition behind this wall was a physical experience that became intense and invigorating, for the entire floor of the Whitney was set up in two main areas with unobstructed views. Since the “studio” is ONE context of the 80 works in the exhibition, I want to explore this new work with you.
After wandering through the exhibition and listening to the talking points of the Whitney’s Director and curators, it became clear that although no one used quite the same vocabulary to discuss Guyton’s work, it is both sculptural and deeply philosophical—kind of an investigation about the relationships among computers, printers, linen and other printing materials, and the architectural spaces where the works originate, for which they are made, and the new contexts that a ten-year retrospective offers when different bodies of work end up facing each other in the same space. In brief, given a chance, the exhibition space engages the senses and opens the mind.
“Wade Guyton OS” (Operating Systems), laid out in two sweeping rectangular swaths, suddenly became a probing, clear production of distinct bodies of work that was both taking apart and putting together the human, aesthetic, and abstract properties of contemporary life. Interspersed among objects on walls and in vitrines were four areas with “traditional” sculptural forms: a set of Marcel Breuer chairs, a series of stacked wooden and plywood sheets, and a series of sleek mirrored steel U-sculptures (2004-2012) ranging in scale, proportions, and in size from 24.1 to 1818.6 cm. in length. The final sculpture was a 2001 Untitled Action Sculpture—a snaking metal form made from the frame of a Marcel Breuer chair. A highlight of the exhibition is the Whitney’s (purchased) eight panels (2008) with alternating bands of black and white that do not meet from one panel to the next, setting up a dizzying, syncopated rhythm. Another highlight is an intense 2007 black-on-black X painting.
Guyton, a 40-year-old artist born in Hammond, Indiana, was featured in the 2004 Whitney Biennial; the Whitney’s Alice Pratt Brown Director, Adam Weinberg, considers Guyton’s work so significant that he noted, “It reminds me about what the response might have been to Frank Stella in his early years,” adding, “and it upends what people think about painting and sculpture.” Donna De Salvo, Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Programs, reinforced this sentiment, praising Guyton’s art for its “continuing belief in abstraction.” Although Curator Scott Rothkopf repeatedly referred to the wall art as painting, Guyton told me, “I think of the paintings as sculpture because of the way I produce them. They are objects that go through a process.” Guyton pointed to a sharply-angled 4-sided Marcel Breuer recessed trapezoidal window against one wall—which is flanked by his new work printed on linen and mounted on stretchers, adding, “It’s about that window and the available space and how the objects are pressured by the architectural setting.” These new works, at a record length of 50 and close to 30 feet long, read as long horizontal warm mustard and China red hues that variously show their interrupted patterns and processes from computer screen to printer, which includes misalignment due to the uneven feeding of the linen through the printer and other unique features. Except for this new work, Guyton noted, “The works in this survey had original contexts and now have a new one.”
Guyton’s work strongly linking steps, processes, and contexts suggests a new notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk—work involving multiple disciplines simultaneously.Many are made with three types of named Epson printers. In addition to crediting printers for their capabilities and limitations, the works are printed on materials ranging from book pages to wood and plywood to linen. These series are notable for the interplays among materials and surfaces. Sometimes the printer ink is especially heavy or light, or the uneven feeding of the linen into the printer distorts or interrupts the image. Among other things, this process becomes a metaphor for the relation between an idea and its realization.
The 228-page exhibition catalog distributed by Yale University Press features outstanding visuals, an interview with the artist, and a long essay by Rothkopf that discusses the roles of scale, sensuality, art historical antecedents, and much more.
The unusual installation simultaneously offered great visual vistas while the work itself offered a sense of intense intimacy.
See Wade Guyton OS and post your comments on this blog!
By Jan Garden Castro