TRASH VERSUS ELEGANCE
Walking down 21st Street a week ago Friday on my way to Robert Grosvenor's opening at Paula Cooper Gallery, I spied three Damien Hirst spot paintings through the door of the Gagosian Gallery 21st Street space, a multiple spot painting in the middle and a dull large spot piece to its right. I don't remember what was on the left, so repulsed was I by, to quote Hannah Arendt, "the banality of evil," summed up in the ridiculously impotent, all-encompassingly weak manifestation of Hirst's spots.
Then I walked into the Grosvenor: graceful Paula pouring fine Bordeaux, a bowl of tiny cheese crackers and a crowd that included veteran artists such as Elizabeth Cannon, Peter Fend and Eve Vaterlaus. Humbly mocking the spots with their subdued elegance are two Grosvenor works, whose horizontal planar quality is best appreciated from a low viewing perspective, for instance by sitting cross-legged, as I did, on Paula's cool concrete floor.
First up is a white Grosvenor berm made of fiberglass and cheesecloth jutting out from two stacks of silver-sprayed concrete bricks, like the bleacher seats at the Super Bowl. Can't sit on it, I surmised, though I did not try. Its second element is a large table with black steel legs and a polyester top covered with silver Gorilla-taped boulders, best seen from the floor. Doesn't sound like much but this table has a calming symmetry, not bouncing around like zillions of nonsequential colored spots or dots or chicken pox.
The second Grosvenor, installed in the front gallery, resembles a bit of Romanesque functionality, which might have emerged from the forgotten critic Adrian Stokes. It's a wagon on thin rusted copper wheels, shielding a concrete slab and topped by a green corrugated roof that gives the whole effort a vein of funereal mobility.
Now how should one contrast the new Robert Grosvenors with the desiccated and illusorily permanent Hirst spots? There is the matter of materials, Grosvenor weaving rationality from simple things while Hirst obsessively wrings the neck of each familiar tube of paint.
Then, there is death, a dignified and ordered demise in Grosvenor, poetically attempting to arrest decay, compared to the constant state of reverberating panic in the Hirst spots. Finally, there is transcendence as the mode of the spirit. The more one gazes at the Grosvenors, the more at ease one becomes, while the dots just delineate you. I shall cast my lot with Grosvenor and dictate to Damien, "Out out damned spots!"
Robert Grosvenor, Feb. 2-Mar. 10, 2012, at Paula Cooper Gallery, 534 West 21st Street, New York, N.Y. 10011
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).