The recent announcement that a British team of scientists has "photographed" for the first time a single molecule, of the obscure metal pentacene, makes Tauba Auerbach's new show at Deitch Projects simultaneously very relevant and anti-climactic. Using a tiny graphite stylus to penetrate the repeated patterns of a molecular structure, the scientists produced an image of an object one-millionth the size of a grain of sand, an image that turns out to resemble some of the black blobs in Robert Motherwell's celebrated painting series "Elegy to the Spanish Republic."
You will find yourself making similar associations looking at Auerbach's work in a gallery setting. Her crumpled sheets are out of Rudolf Stingel, her eyebreaking op art is amped-up Bridget Riley, her colored word paintings (from an earlier series) are structured Christopher Wool and her overall program seeks to fulfill (and actually does, with a vengeance) the impersonal creative goals of Donald Judd. Nevertheless, in things molecular and Taubular, you would be wise to resist the associations. The purpose of Auerbach's work is to reject the eye, much as that pentacene molecule rejects being photographed in a conventional sense.
A blown-up snap of some black blobs and an Auerbach picture of colored television static on a wall are so crude as to not even be approximations of what they represent. Instead they are an idea of the helplessness that the tiny induces in normal mortals, mortals who don't solder microchips in a cyberfactory or deconstruct the human genome. Auerbach argues with her work, which can be best appreciated on her excellent website, that assumptions of scale, color and association are nothing but weak shots in the dark.
Her own efforts, sometimes dazzling, are really as slack as the crumpled sheets in some of her newest pictures, because the patterns which delicately emerge are positively Brobdingnagian compared to the world’s interfacing her imagination. As such, Tauba has patterned herself into a corner in which the vibration turns back on the tuning fork and obliterates it. As talented as Tauba can be, she should retire before she loses her mind.
"Tauba Auerbach: Here and Now and Nowhere," Sept. 3-Oct. 17, 2009, at Deitch Projects, 18 Wooster Street, New York, N.Y. 10013.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).