In a recent group show called "Trans-Atlantic Domino," Michael Rouillard installed a painting that walled off the entire northern side of Stark Gallery. This painting, entitled Divide, spans a 38-foot room and devours a near-central square column. Though stealthier and less aggressive, it reminded me of the giant scroll painting, appropriately called Expanse, which Rouillard installed a few years ago at Stark (in the gallery's earlier location on Broadway). Although, Expanse was more materially ambiguous, and it completely worked over the viewer in densely colored orange, the total experience of literal enrapture was somewhat similar.
Divide, however, is entirely more situational. Whereas, Expanse could easily be unfurled along any flat surface, the main component of Divide is the Crosby Street space itself. The column is the axis of the painting. Even the painted white canvas surface of Divide relates, discursively, to the brushy, white-yellow surface of the gallery's decor-painted walls.
Once, a while ago, I saw a group show on lower Broadway where an artist took a large multi-paneled series of paintings and goofily hung them along the wall without picture wire or nails by wedging the paintings in between the columns. The paintings hung above the ground, and away from the wall, suspended Samson-like by the same columns that were supporting the gallery's walls. This looked terrible, improvised but thoughtless.
Rouillard's piece, however, way over on the other side of the spectrum, was discrete and integrated, which is by no means an easy feat. All interplay between the viewer, Divide, and the space was carefully negotiated by Rouillard. The composition of the painting was visibly pragmatic, and I think it successfully reflects a kind of track and sheetrock mentality that has governed much composition and sense of space in abstract painting in recent years. Appropriate solutions to many difficult situations are driven by this kind of can-do sensibility.
Divide itself is constructed upon aluminum crossbars, which reflects this kind of material oriented decision-making that begins from the ground up. I imagine Divide would look much softer, and less right, had it been stretched upon conventional wooden strainers. Although the enormity of Divide is overwhelming--the painting cannot even be photographed in a single shot in the gallery, it doesn't have any of the personal affront that's generally associated with monolithic slabs of this kind. It remains human scaled, by height and horizontal elongation, carefully delimiting the realm of possible painted experience in order to divide and not conquer.
Michael Rouillard at Stark Gallery, 113 Crosby Street, 925-4484, NYC.
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