«I was intentionally trying to subvert the power of pure forms.»
Häusler Contemporary Zürich presents both early «Black Paintings» by Gary Kuehn as well as selected recent work from this series, in context of the artist’s sculpture.
This juxtaposition highlights Kuehn’s conceptual and process-based approach, and his significant contribution to the historical shift in 1960’s sculpture towards a material, procedural methodology. Our exhibition points to the themes that he has been grappling with throughout his career: the relation between geometry and natural forces, between limitation and freedom.
Is it possible to provide a visual experience of gravity and inertia, of the elemental constraint caused by pure form? Gary Kuehn (*1939, New Jersey, US, lives in New York, US), one of the major representatives of «Process Art» in the 1960s, has been addressing this question until this day. With his sculptures made of everyday, industrial materials he repeatedly created visual representations of matter’s potential. Ever since the 1970s he also has been investigating these subjects on the canvas in a special series of pictures, the so- called «Black Paintings» that reveal a sculptural interpretation of painting.
The gallery presents a selection of these powerful works along with early sculptures in the exhibition «Rational Procedures». The paintings on view cover the period from 1969 to 1971 and from 2000 until today. The title chosen by the artist aptly summarizes the two major aspects of his artistic strategy: the conceptual, rational setting which stands at the beginning of each work, and the resulting action – that can be controlled only to a certain extent – leading to the final shape.
Gary Kuehn points out that the «Black Paintings» are «made rather than painted.» The canvas is treated as a «container to be filled in a procedural way» (Kuehn), and just as in Kuehn’s sculptures, a focal accent lies on the physical nature of materials: acrylic paint is poured into predetermined circular shapes giving the works a relief-like structure due to the thickness of the paint. The circular stencils themselves are distorted and squeezed against each other in their attempt to adjust to the outer limitations of the canvas. Typical for Kuehn’s oeuvre, these works combine a strong physical presence with a metaphoric dimension. The squeezed circles are entrapped by the predetermined format of the painting, which forces each element to adjust one to the next, controlled overall by the authority of the format of the painting.
Three sculptures of the 1960s complete the exhibition and elucidate the direct connection between these paintings and Kuehn’s sculptural approach: a «Wedge Piece» (1964) in which a mattress-like object conforms itself to the triangular supports by which it is held above floor; a work from the «Crate Piece» series (1969) in which a square matter is held upright by a wooden structure; and «The Provisionals» (1969), another floor piece in which two metal rings of uneven size are forced into approximate congruence by bar clamps.
Our exhibition again illustrates how Kuehn’s work addresses both creative and material questions, how he unites the conceptual and the procedural, and how he has found an impressive visual formula for the precarious relation between limitation and the quest for freedom.
Deborah Keller, Häusler Contemporary
Gary Kuehn was included in the seminal exhibitions «Eccentric Abstraction», New York 1966, «When Attitudes Become Form», Bern 1969, and «documenta 6», Kassel 1977. His retrospective exhibition «Between Sex and Geometry» was held at the Kunstmsueum Liechtenstein in 2014. Recently his work has been exhibited at the Fondazione Prada, Venice, the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, and the Wadsworth Athenauem Museum of Art, Hartford.
His works are held in renowned museum collections all over the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Albertia, Vienna, Kunstmuseum Bonn, the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin.