Push | Pull
PUSH/PULL is an exhibition celebrating the work of Steven Parrino (1958-2005) shown in dialogue with seminal works by Lucio Fontana (1899-1968), Richard Serra (b.1938), Cady Noland (b.1956), Richard Prince (b.1949) and Christopher Wool (b.1955). PUSH/PULL is a phrase drawn from Parrino’s No Texts (2003), a collection of the artist’s statements and writings that reveal his aesthetic impulses and the broad range of cultural influences that would concern him. The exhibition contextualises Parrino’s practice alongside the practice of his predecessors and those artists of his own generation, who came of age at a time when, as he wrote, painting was declared dead. In so doing it investigates those themes of surface tension, spatial thresholds, and implied violence, that would further serve to redefine the confines of the artwork.
Radical in both popular culture and the avant-garde, Parrino was fueled by an appetite for destruction; in the late seventies, he began attacking, slashing, tearing, and twisting the canvas, disrupting the traditional Greenbergian celebration of flatness. Similarly, before him, Lucio Fontana’s ground-breaking slashes of the Concetto Spaziale, Attese, enacted a gesture that decisively served to both penetrate and disrupt the symbolic purity of the monochrome. Fontana would refer to his ‘slashes’ as breaching a different dimension: ‘I make a hole in the canvas in order to leave behind me the old pictorial formulae… I escape symbolically, but also materially, from the prison of the flat surface.”i Fontana’s instinctive, almost violent gesture would be echoed and evolved by Parrino decades later.
A formal tension underpins Richard Serra’s Roll Plate Prop, 1969, a body of work that Parrino refers to in his writings. Serra began to use lead in 1968 to enact sculptural processes such as rolling, tearing, and casting. Growing concerned that the finished works were mere records of the forces that formed them, he began to explore ways of making sculptures where forces continued to be at work at every moment of their existence. The gravitational phenomenon in which the sheer weight of leaning slab of lead suspends the lead roll against the wall generates an equilibrium of its own accord, anchoring the work in present moment by existing in a state of perpetual flux. Its precarious arrangement infiltrates the space of the viewer and activates an unsettling sense of danger, embodying Parrino’s statement that ultimately ‘all structures fall into chaos.’ii
The theme of boundaries and division is literalised in Cady Noland's installation, Dead Space, 1989, wherein the gallery space is transformed into a psychologically charged environment. Noland, through the positioning of metal scaffolding pipes at calculated intervals, merges dialectical notions of boundaries and voids. By creating an open threshold, Dead Space at once constrains the viewer and redefines the space one inhabits. As Parrino wrote in 2001, ‘the dangerous thing about her work, and what makes it so good, is how she works with restrictions, physical and mental.’iii This sense of tension and danger, so admired by Parrino is also an important element of his work.
Parrino’s pervasive interest in the void – as window, wound, or breach – is a compelling and often repeated motif throughout his practice and is exemplified in his celebrated work Untitled (Stockade), 1988 a form which then also inspired Noland’s own work. In Dum Dum Boys, 1986, a pair of circular holes are cut through its striking yellow monochromatic canvas. It feels like a visual assault, akin to staring down the barrel of gun. The implied violence of this form in his work reveals Parrino’s fascination for the darker depths of American society and in Dum Dum Boys, where the work takes its name from Iggy Pop and the Stooges similarly titled song from 1977, combines with his interest in punk culture.
Richard Prince’s series of Hood sculptures also focus on popular culture and America’s love of the muscle cars by iconizing them. Prince began painting on actual muscle-car hoods, treating them as three-dimensional “canvases.” As the Hoods can be wall-mounted painted reliefs or free standing sculptures they again play on this shared interest in what defines the art object and also blur the boundaries between life and art and truth and fiction. “Prince’s work operates somewhere in the territory of Duchamp and Warhol but often with quite different intentions and a fascination with a very specific down-and-dirty vision of American popular culture.”iv
In the same way Parrino and Prince wanted to break free from historical canons and inherited conventions, Christopher Wool "sought to make traditional paintings that did not look like traditional paintings, (eliminating) everything that seemed unnecessary; hierarchical composition and internal form."v Best known for his painterly take on downtown New York’s urban scene and the city’s counterculture, Wool delved into the visual language of graffiti, and the fluid automatism of silkscreen production. Experimenting with the limits of the printing and painting process, Wool’s Untitled (S156), 2001 deliberately conflates mechanical notions of creation with original painterly marks.
Steven Parrino called works like Peel Out, 2000 his ‘misshaped canvases’ in response to the shaped paintings of the 1960’s. Parrino was seeking to further deconstruct painting, detaching the canvas from its stretcher to create rough folded cleft surfaces, or violently twisting it as with Caustic Pill, 2001. In setting Parrino’s work alongside those artists who equally sought to disrupt the status quo, PUSH/PULL illustrates Parrino’s unquestionably significant contribution to Post-War art.
The exhibition coincides with a solo-exhibition of his works at the gallery’s E64th Street space which will be accompanied by a catalogue published Summer 2019.