Looking back on 2016 in the commercial contemporary art market, there was one particular event that seemed to turn heads in the community this year: Loic Gouzer’s “Bound to Fail” auction for Christie’s in New York on May 8th. Headlining the evening sale was Jeff Koon’s Duchamp-style One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank, whereby a Spalding basketball was suspended half afloat in an aquarium of saline water layers. The semantics of the just stated are important in comprehending the groundbreaking work’s relation to Gouzer’s curated sale: as the ordinary basketball slowly loses its inflation over time, it will eventually sink in the collector’s home for the piece. It’s bound to fail.
From Art Basel in Miami to the Frieze Art Fair in London, 5 STYLE spent 2016 at several gallery openings and commercial art market events too. Yet, in remembering the most notable of the reductive or quote-on-quote minimalist public revelations in the past year, there was one that captured our attention: German artist Frank Gerritz’s (b. 1964) coinciding exhibitions at the Bartha Contemporary in London and the Sleeper Art-Space in Edinburgh (May 13 – July 2). Perhaps Gouzer’s reworking of Bruce Nauman’s coined ‘Bound to Fail’ phrase employed in his seminal cast work Henry Moore, Bound to Fail (1967) applies laterally across the Pond from Manhattan to Marylebone at Gerritz’s stunner: his series of pencil drawings as both works on paper and MDF-backed mixed media.
Strolling into the Bartha Contemporary gallery’s light-flooded quaint white space in central London, Gerritz’s non-figural work from afar is as seemingly simple as a late ‘60s American Minimalism statement made by figures like Sol LeWitt or Donald Judd: pure shape grammars. Yet upon approaching the work closer – under the bright lights – there exists a nuance in Gerritz’s touch that is no-doubt absent in the repertoire of LeWitt and Judd: a spatial relevance. There is an acknowledgement of the immediate surround by the work with a reflection off of the graphite pencil strokes.
Perhaps the ephemeral effect – the momentary fleeting portraits in the supposedly non-figural creations that change with the movement in the adjacent space of the displayed work – would have been shamed in the spheres of LeWitt and Judd for failing the reductive principles of minimal purity; nevertheless, the series of work catches the eye of our collective understanding of minimalism in this contemporary moment of 2016 for its ability to do just that: fail. For it is in challenging the meaning of what is ‘minimalist’ with the most reductive gesture – an almost absent gesture without getting close enough to the work to experience it firsthand – that positions Gerritz’s work at the forefront of what we consider to be the statement pieces of this past year shortly coming to full close.
It is Gerritz’s repetition of the same straight line over and over and over again, with the same graphite pencil that is minimalist in its process and positions the work in that genre; yet, it is also the very minimal thought we have as viewers of the work – that perhaps the work is not just repetitive drawn lines, but rather reflective planar windows into the shape grammars of our own reality – that we consider to be a contemporary minimalism for its ability to engage our non-figural thoughts. We are made immediately aware of our cyclic and often repetitive movements in our fast-paced world when we peer into the brief encounter with ourselves as reductive silhouette shapes in Gerritz’s analog mirrors.
Words: Luke Decker
Photos: Bartha Contemporary