The Art Institute of Chicago is currently featuring two stainless steel sculptures by Liz Larner, the mirror-polished, low-slung X and the vividly painted, outstretched 6, virtually tucked away on a terrace overlooking Millennium Park. Viewed against such a spectacular backdrop, the works do not (as the press release might suggest) “simultaneously seem to call out to and distinguish themselves from the park’s own architecture and palette.” Instead, both get completely lost: against the white half walls and metal railing of the museum’s architecture, against the Chicago skyline so prominent in the background, and on the soft colored wooden platform erected for its presentation. If the intention here is to address the way an object defines the space it occupies or in some way transform my perception of the space, both fall short. It’s an unfortunate placement that removes any potential power the works may possess (and I'm not saying they do); as well as, unfortunately, my interest.
Described (again by AIC) to explore and expand the possibilities of sculpture by “exploring both the physical qualities and suggestive power of an object”, Larner’s work focuses on geometric formalism and supposed reinvention of Minimalism through modifying line, color, and shape in order to engage viewers intellectually as well as emotionally. This is a lot of words that, like the works, actually says very little. I find little narrative here, or much cause for meditation, or discover any new relationship between myself, the object, or the notions of space. X, a sleek, polished silver form appears in fluid motion (either erupting or being crushed, I am unsure) and in the afternoon sun, it perfectly gleams. At just the right angle, the simple, graphic shape it is painfully blinding. The letter X is an interesting choice to construct as a three-dimensional object as it can lend itself to several meanings: treasure location, a mark as a signature, something undefined, etc.; but it fails to provoke any real contemplation, let alone prompt any kind of site-specific or real-time encounter.
6, a cube emptied and its boundaries fluffed and plumped, is an example of Larner’s “ever-evolving language of abstract forms—made from diverse, often organic materials and typically comprised of contours rather than solid planes—is substantial, refined, and experimental in equal measure.” I don’t find it quite as experimental as is suggested: just because the the lines aren’t straight, perpendicular, or at right angles to each other, it still remains the shapes (the cube) it references. As a purely formal investigation into form, I see the direction Larner wants me to go; but it feels cold, unambitious, and stalled. It feels like it did the first time I practiced drawing singular contour lines while not look at the page or when I learned how to manipulate a shape in Photoshop to create something (ironically) more organic and less “made.” And, perhaps most importantly, the color choices here are a disappointment. They are too reminiscent of the currently trendy, bohemian, home-décor palette one might find at Urban Outfitters. I find it utterly unappealing.
Lastly, the expansive, dull, ash platform, described as the third important and unifying component of the installation (I find this term innocuous in this situation – the works are installed, they are not an installation), is supposed to serve as the unifying base for the works. I suppose it does, the same as a grouping of pedestals might; but it doesn’t bring any valued presence to the works or encourage any direct experience. In fact, it does the opposite. Viewers are “invited” to engage with the works, to get up-close, get in and among the works; however, its placement could not be any more discouraging to this wish. It feels only like a wooden stage that can easily be considered as part of the restaurant with tourists and locals eating organic salads and sipping wine some three feet away. Regardless, as I attempted to get a closer look (I wanted to feel how hot the metal would be as it baked in the sun) security stopped me, shook his head just once from left to right, and told me “no.” I retreated to the air conditioned museum feeling unfulfilled: I had little to write about and less I felt like revisiting later.
6 and X by Liz Larner are on view now through September 27, 2015 on the Bluhm Family Terrace on the 3rd Floor of the Modern Wing, just outside Terzo Piano. For more, visit: www.artic.edu/exhibition/liz-larner