December 15, 1970
Richard Van Buren has had a great deal of exposure in the last two years, and one begins to formulate a view of his work, isolate problems, equivocate over the relative merits of certain pieces. I take the present exhibition to be his strongest to date, an opinion based on the fact that in these new aggregates Van Buren is more cogently expressing those sculptural aspects which may be regarded as traditional, particularly that part of his work which drifts toward a sharp, craggily modulated relief. Moreover, Van Buren’s coloristic thrust has intensified and he more insistently binds together individual elements through a constantly rung coloristic oneness and color association.
The work, made of poured and hardened fiberglass and polyester resin, is often interrupted in the set of its jell and filled with all manner of colored powdered substances ranging from rare metals to commonplace earth pigments, metal shavings and plaster. In terms of his new, sustained color emotivity I admire the murky, phlegmy six-element work and the rancid, eggy five-piece group, both in the main room. The front gallery space was softer in feel, with a paschal, licheny work.
The kind of pictorial focus to which Van Buren’s sculpture alludes has built into it several inescapable conundrums for, as the jagged, grainy-edged floor pieces are transferred to the wall, the being in it of the artist’s experience and his method of working is replaced by the looking at it of the traditionally based figure-ground problem inherent in the collage tradition of which pictorial sculpture is but one extreme manifestation. Inescapably, the wall upon which the piece is hung becomes the ground of which the work itself is the figure. Apart from the environmental clues of such a shift, the artist must now also be considerate of the shaping of the wall between the elements of his piece. Van Buren gives much evidence of struggling with this dilemma and his struggle suggests many of the issues connected with organizational problems in Robert Duran’s painting. Earlier this year, at Paula Cooper’s, for example, Van Buren’s elements were arranged along parallel diagonals, a method now rejected perhaps because of its obviously decorative basis. This kind of organization has been replaced by a surer, more traditional sense of measure and justness of position which rejects in toto the all-over, chance location which marked the inception of Van Buren’s hangings about three years back.
Since I have tossed out a clue about Duran (whose evolution in part must be studied with that of Van Buren’s), I should add that Duran’s attempt to deal with the figure-ground problem (in terms of his quirky painted shapes, so similar to Van Buren’s plastic ones), has resolved itself by locating the shapes on a monochromatizing ground which receives its general tonality from the color-feel of the shapes of the painting. Fn this regard, the moment at which Poons’s “op” pictures began to break down in favor of a general tonalist drift (late 1966 and early 1967), ought to be remembered as a significant, if then baffling inauguration of this process.