There was a moment in the influential California artist Robert Irwin's artistic life—documented in Lawrence Weschler's classic book Seeing Is Forgetting the Thing One Sees (my love letter to the 25-year-old book here; the new 25th-anniversary special edition can be pre-ordered in hardback for $31.50 here or in paperback for $16.47 here)—when Irwin realized he was looking around.
He was painting one or two thin lines across a canvas, and kept moving them up or down just slightly until they felt absolutely right. It could take weeks to get one line in the right place. And then, when they were perfect, he realized he had another dilemma: they were only perfect in his studio, where they were made. The placements of the lines depended on the room around them, not just the white space of the rest of the canvas. Irwin realized that, for him, art doesn't stand alone. He was making art in relation to what was around it.
Well, once you start bringing architecture or space into the experience of art, you might as well bring in time, too. That's the idea behind New York-based artist Wade Kavanaugh's new installation at Suyama Space, in which the bumps of land that were leveled off in the Denny Regrade at the turn of the 20th century reappear in rough, ghostly form indoors.
The bricks that make up the mounds are handmade from scraps of salvaged drywall layered together like wafers. The choice of drywall makes it as if the artist is imagining the walls of the gallery deconstructing into the shape of the former land on the site.
The rough, sandblasted surfaces of the bricks—there are 10,000 of them, according to the artist—and their subtle spectrum of color due to the original uses of the pieces of drywall make the piece visually engrossing, especially when seen from slightly above, on the staircase adjoining the gallery.
Unfortunately, Kavanaugh had to deal with several egresses from the room (four exit doors, two bathroom doors, and a fire escape, if you can believe it), so there are too many paths through the land forms, and the movement aspect of the experience feels unresolved.
Before you head down there (the show's up through December 12), listen to Kavanaugh talk about the genesis of his idea, what the colors tell you, and what he does with all this material when he's finished.