Dan Walsh created his first site-specific work at Petra Bungert Gallery this summer. His installation expanded upon the same diagrammatic tendencies he uses for his paintings, with a few key differences. In paintings like Repertoire (1994) or Session (1996), Walsh, who typically paints without tape or straight-edge, uses hand-painted lines to demarcate an area or enclosure that is set against the blank, white expanse of a uniformly even underpainting. Walsh almost always draws some kind of symmetrical image, sometimes with colored lines, that seems to be working against a unified field of white. Although Walsh's paintings are immediate in their imagery, they also are unusually thoughtful and considered in spite of their quick-draw execution. Not merely gently rendered schematics, Walsh's these images are fully realized paintings on spatial, psychological and every other level.
His works are typically preoccupied with formal notions of volume and perimeter, ideas which might seem to transfer easily to an actual architectural space like Bungert's gallery. One can picture how Walsh's unsteady lines might work directly on any white wall -- but something more is required to account for the compound effects of working so sparely in an already realized space.
More focus than action is required by modernism -- one is reminded of Mondrian endlessly reapplying tape in his New York City paintings, or of Barnett Newman supposedly fretting for hours before making a decisive zip move, each in order to land their line in its most right place. Intuition follows attention. Walsh's paintings and installation at Petra Bungert are no exception to this kind of practiced tweaking of space, and the unfixed plaster of her walls makes an ideal surface for an experiment such as this.
Walsh remade the gallery space by reconfiguring its proportions with just a roll of black tape. He literally demarcated the human scale of the space by wrapping a double-lined beltway around the perimeter of the gallery, slightly dropping the center of gravity by placing these paired lines a little lower than waist level. (Walsh has previously achieved a similar effect in exhibitions at Paula Cooper Gallery by hanging his paintings just a few inches off the floor.) Another circumnavigating line, placed just below eye level, defined the upward limit of this area. Even installations have edges.
Riding up along each corner from the floor to the eye-level line were vertical lines, giving an effect of reinforcing a limit in height (in contrast to the ceiling) and adding to the perceived downward pressure of the piece. The gallery's east wall, flanked on either side by openings that lead to the door, was marked only by the eye-level line and a second line at nearer the ceiling that aligned with a roof beam. The effect was to break the feeling of enclosure and serves as a nice open counterpoint to viewer and the center of the gallery space.
An optical break occurs all along the highest line which surrounds the gallery, where the T-form "corners" drawn with tape meet the actual corners formed by the walls. This gave the room the appearance of having been removed above the top edge of the taped line, and then reassembled a half-inch off base. This effect turns visibly straight corners into walls altered by invisibly raised white wainscoting.
In some sense there is some common ground between this installation and some of Michael Asher's recent work, in which exposed pipe fittings trail in pairs along gallery walls, immediately redefining any reading of the given interior. However, Walsh's installation was so particular, and so in line with the logic of his painting, it was impossible to see this piece as anything but a necessary extension of his previous work. It will be interesting, too, to see any subsequent effect on his paintings. To a painter, one presumes, there are temptations that accompany any taste of real space.
Many of the shows at Petra Bungert Gallery have dealt with the formal limits and possibilities of her tiny but beautiful space. Sadly, Walsh's installation will be the last, since this space is closing and Bungert plans to relocate in Europe. This is a great loss. Few galleries have provided so many challenging exhibitions in such a short time. On the exhibition schedule has been Robert Fosdick, Alan Uglow, August Zimmerman, Joan Waltemath, Simon Ungers, Tad Wiley, Andreas Karl Schulze, John Nixon, Katharina Grosse and Beat Zoderer, among others.
Dan Walsh, June 13-July 26, 1997, at Petra Bungert, 225 Lafayette Street, Suite 303, New York, N.Y. 10012