For the 2017 edition of Expo Chicago, Garth Greenan Gallery will present a solo-exhibition of works by Richard Van Buren—Richard Van Buren: Bennington. Six of the artist’s densely layered abstract sculptures will be on view, including the monumental floor piece Bennington (1970) and Strata (1977). The former consists of multiple brightly colored polyester elements cast from Mylar sheets buried in a snowbank. It is a seminal work in that it marks the beginning of the artist’s career-long fascination with the relationship between natural/organic forms and man-made/inorganic materials, especially their ability to mimic each other.
Rather than modeled or constructed, works like Bennington seem to emerge as residue from two ends of time that seldom join together. Folded, twisted, sharp and lumpy—the forms are shot through with colors that are simultaneously toxic and beautiful. In each element, the artist embedded milled glass, plaster, paper, glitter, and dry pigment. At times, the semi-transparent forms resemble crumpled pieces of space junk that have been frozen in order to encase other pieces of trash for forensic reference. Viewers both look at and into Bennington.
Van Buren's understanding of time is what sets him apart from his peers. His early sculptures are not about the timeless present (Donald Judd and Dan Flavin) or the body (Eva Hesse), nor do they reference art history—Jackson Pollock’s poured paintings, for example. Rather, they acknowledge that time shapes people into forms that they might not be able to recognize, which, as critic John Yau writes, “is a rather disquieting perception of infinity.” Add this to his embrace of disparate, seemingly incommensurable materials, as well as the processes that he pioneered, and the enormity of his achievement becomes instantly apparent.