BWW Reviews: The Jewish Museum Revisits Post-Modern Breakthroughs with OTHER PRIMARY STRUCTURES
Other Primary Structures at the Jewish Museum is a response to a history-making exhibition--the 1966 showcase Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptors, which also appeared at the Jewish Museum. It was Primary Structures that helped bring Minimalism masterminds such as Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Robert Morris, and Ellsworth Kelly to the fore of artistic discourse, even though that Minimalism category is blurry at best. To take a quotation from Kynaston McShine, who served as curator of painting and sculpture at the Jewish Museum in 1966, the artists on display were "not consciously allied in a school or in a specific movement, but they do share a stylistic tendency." That tendency involves "irony, paradox, mystery, ambiguity, even wit, as well as formal beauty"--valuable qualities all, even if they don't in the least help you visualize LeWitt's signature openwork cubes or Judd's totemic compartment blocks. That tendency to branch out and embrace paradox, though, matters: Art was broadening to new materials, new concepts, new modes of exhibition and interaction.
Yet for the present leadership of the Jewish Museum, Primary Structures didn't broaden out as much as could have. The show brought together artists from England, the United States, and... well, that's pretty much it. So it is that Other Primary Structures stretches far across the globe, drawing in artists from Brazil, South Korea, and the nations of Eastern Europe, to name but a few of the countries represented. To accommodate this, organizer Jens Hoffmann has split his offering into two distinct halves: Others 1 (on view right now) spotlights international artists who were working at the same time, and in the same conceptual vein, as the luminaries of Anglo American Minimalism; Others 2 (on view starting May 25) zeroes in on artworks that responded directly to Primary Structures.
Funny, how a show about formally reductive, quitessentially minimal art is so complicated. In his catalog introduction, Hoffmann emphasizes the historical burdens that Other Primary Structures must assume. The "other" in the title takes on a few different meanings: "One is literal: additional, or further works are shown. The second evokes the postcolonial 'other'--the many cultural, ethnic, and political groups that have been marginalized, suppressed, or underrepresented." This second "other" makes Other Primary Structures seem like a very solemn affair, which it isn't; it has a fair number of defects, but political preachiness isn't one of them. In fact, the spirit of this scattered yet lively show is exactly the opposite. Derivative, sure; disjointed, fine. But playful, endearing, heartwarming even if it falls far short of groundbreaking? Absolutely.
The approach to Minimalism that you'll find at Other Primary Structures is much like the approach to ecology or geology that you'll find at the Liberty Science Center. Make it quick, make it just informative enough, and above all make it fun. The installation uses close-to-lifesize photographs from the original Primary Structures as backdrops, adding an illusion of depth to the exhibition space. There is also a room featuring a scale model of the Jewish Museum, with the entries from Primary Structures reconstructed in miniature and visible through tiny windows.