Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Jene Highstein at Danese Gallery

Seeing this show in the flesh last Thursday made me want to revisit everything I read in college about Postminimalism. Along with Eva Hesse, Joel Shapiro, Hannah Wilke, and Martin Puryear, Highstein is part of a generation that was raised with a philosophy emphasizing literacy and sophistication in visual art. Shapes, colors, and forms were simple and direct. Painting and sculpture were so abstract as to align themselves with Platonic ideals: immaculate, pretty much authorless, and, above all, pure. I'm already kind of plagiarizing myself and don't want to drag what I wrote about Mary Judge into the ground, but to me, to go against the grain in this respect, making work that--for all its subtlety--is decidedly impure, is to commit an act of particular courage.

Jene Highsteen, NEW SCULPTURE: Towers and Elliptical Forms, Installation view, 2011.
 The titles of the human-height sculptures in the show (above, from left to right, Jar TowerOff-Balance Balloon, and Jug Tower, all 2008) along with the falteringly anthropomorphic and asymmetrical tower sculptures, (below) recall things that are at once practical and monumental, at once earthly and beyond what can be easily grasped. These works are emphatically graceful, nebulous, and imperfect; in short, more like the thoughts of a person than authorless ideals.

Jene Highsteen, NEW SCULPTURE: Towers and Elliptical Forms, Installation view, 2011.
Highstein is also like Wilke and Puryear in the considerable originality with which he treats materials. As with Wilke's work in plastics or Puryear's in wood, Highstein's approach (in the past to clay, glass, and in this show, to steel) is a matter of gentle exploration, more about meditating on the possibilities of his medium than garrulously flirting with its edgy limitations. Made of a traditionally heavy material, Highstein's sculptures in this show maintain a firm connection to the ground. And yet they appear, occasionally, to float.

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