Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974-1989, the first museum exhibition of Gaines’s early conceptual serial work, opened last weekend at the Hammer Museum. In a highly informative walkthrough, Gaines and Studio Museum Harlem curator Naima J. Keith discussed the difficulty of producing beautiful and meaningful art absent of subjective expression.
The exhibited series, produced while Gaines was living in Fresno and before he moved to Los Angeles to teach at CalArts, employ rigorously mathematical formulations to plot–and superimpose–the coordinates of photographs onto hand-drawn graph paper, as system he described as “aesthetic and functional at the same time.” Throughout the exhibition’s fifteen years, Gaines continued to create increasingly difficult systems for his work, moving from static subjects (trees) to human faces and eventually moving bodies, in a collaboration with Trisha Brown.
“I was troubled by the problem of expressivity and the linkage of that to notions of self and identity, almost like the simple idea that a personal signature is an expression of the self, and this becomes extrapolated to an entire discipline like art,” said Gaines. “And I was troubled by it because I was painting but I couldn’t feel a relationship with the images that I produced as a painter, which were produced out of a kind of strategy production based upon subjective expression.”
Gaines cited the writings of Henri Focillon and an early exposure to Eastern Tantric art as revealing the possibility of employing systems to create beautiful images without the influence of subjective expression. “I simply wanted to be able to articulate casually the way images are there, and demonstrate that even though I am operating in a deterministic, mimetic system, subjectivity is suppressed but the poetic relationship with the work isn’t suppressed,” he said.
Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974-1989 is on view until May 24.