Approximating the Obvious

01/16/2008 12:00 AM |

“It’s jock art, but it looks good,” one gallery-goer told me recently, aptly describing the work of Mike Quinn now on display at Perry Rubenstein Gallery. Part of Successive Approximation, a five-person show including Tauba Auerback, Daniel Buren, Sol Lewitt and Robin Rhode, Quinn’s March Mad Addiction Descent may best meet the exhibition’s theme: repeated comparison of form to derive visual resolution, even if it lacks any significant content. As the art connoisseur above seemed to suggest, success in aesthetics may neutralize its lack of conceptual depth — a familiar argument, though frequently without merit.

One of seemingly countless emerging artists taking cues from Robert Rauschenberg and the arte de povera movement, Quinn adds and removes elongated triangle forms from segments in the New York Times about basketball’s March Madness to create his work. The artist collages sports pendants and various drugs he consumed during that time into the pieces as well, hanging the 31 framed objects in a long beautiful arc across the east wall of the gallery. The rainbow-like form gently suggests the pleasure and excess the artist experienced, and his use of a variable pharmacy of crushed drugs literalizes it.

Unfortunately, one of the more interesting aspects of this work appears in its failures. Exhibiting similar characteristics to the amateurish painting that looks great from far away but reveals its clumsy self up close, March Mad Addiction Descent appears to have poetic meaning only at a distance. Upon inspection, the individual pieces take the most obvious route to document a run-of-the-mill narrative about drug abuse. Had the piece invested some perceivable personal response apart from the experience itself, these complaints probably wouldn’t exist. In fact, the adjacent Pyramide MH 13, by Sol Lewitt, may keep many from remarking on its problems by providing an enormous, white, abstract 3-dimensional form that mimics the angular shapes within Quinn’s work. As a vessel of ambiguous meaning, Lewitt’s sculpture mitigates many of the more pedestrian aspects of March Mad Addiction’s narrative. Also nearby, Tauba Auerbach’s The Answer / Wasn’t Here (Anagram VII) seems to speak well both in color and unintentional meaning as applied to Quinn’s piece.

Other works, such as the fabulous 1972 stripe painting, Peinture Acrylique Blanche sur tissu raye blanc et vert by Daniel Buren, or Robin Rhodes’ 2005 DVD, Untitled Bottles, match the idea of informed repetition well enough, though Rhodes’ slightly hammy performative graffiti documentation delivers few surprises and will therefore bore most viewers. At least when Mike Quinn fails he does so in an interesting way. As a result, while Successive Approximation may not the best, or even the most engaging show you’ll see in Chelsea this month, there’s certainly enough variety to merit a visit and discussion.