Just as in life, nature, economics, and history, so too in art are cycles an inevitability. The visceral gestures of Abstract Expressionism gave way to the flatness of Pop and the hard edges of Minimalism, which in turn stirred a generation of “Post-Minimalists” to reject clean forms and tidy material delineations, opting instead for handicrafts and organic aesthetics. And the cycles continued: the 1980s saw the return of expressionist painting in a major way, only for the Pop-inflected commerciality of Koons and Hirst to dominate the ’90s and ’00s. Well, if the 2014 Whitney Biennial is any indicator (look no further than Sheila Hicks’s floor-to-ceiling showstopper), then the art world is experiencing another shift, with some of today’s most productive artists reinventing the conceits of their Post-Minimalist predecessors.
We found the trend especially live and well at 333 Montezuma Arts in New Mexico—not coincidentally the state where Lynda Benglis and Richard Tuttle have been working for decades. Drew Dominick is one such practitioner, best known for two parallel bodies of work: one, drawings made with grinders and sanders, which he runs in controlled havoc and turns their marks into mandala-like compositions; the other, his insane mixed-media “After Remington” sculptures that reference one of the great artists of the American West in a range of materials, from drywall and suede to tobacco, snake skin, and feathers. Comparing Dominick to another inheritor of the Post-Minimalist torch, artist and critic Tom Moody once wrote: “If Felix Gonzales-Torres was a Christ-figure among young reinterpreters of Minimalism, gently spilling candy in a corner, inviting gallery-goers to take sheets of silk-screened paper when they left, then Drew Dominick is the Antichrist, a psycho-garage-mechanic running amuck with his power tools.”
Guggenheim Fellowship awardee David McDonald is another such artist, whose sculptures fuse the tradition of found object assemblage with the Post-Minimalist emphasis on handcrafted forms—in his case, hand-hewn blocks, cylinders, and orbs of clay, wood, and concrete. We can’t help but agree with critics who compare him to Benglis, Tuttle, and Rauschenberg and describe his work as a “rare brand of abstraction that feels convincingly organic: neither secretly symbolic nor aspiringly decorative; capable of drawing true poetic meaning from the conscientious arrangement of things in themselves.” Albuquerque-based Rebekah Potter is even more explicit in referencing these same artists—she cites Rauschenberg and Tuttle as her main influences, and indeed there’s something distinctly Combine-like about her mixed-media, semi-figurative collages. Similarly, her sprawling handsewn abstractions evoke the floppy textile works of Hicks and Eva Hesse—two icons of the feminist rejection of macho hard-edged Minimalism. “By combining the use of fabric with shapes that tempt us to poke, pull and prod,” Potter says, “it is intended that the viewer will be more fully engaged, their curiosity awakened, their ‘selves’ further explored.”
And therein lies the power of these artists and many others represented by the adventurous 333 Montezuma: by reinterpreting past masters, not only do these contemporary artists bring their forebears (and the contentious issues they addressed) alive today, but they also infuse even their newest works with the weight of history.