David Zwirner, London
30 January - 29 March 2014
Review by Catrin Davies
For a minimalist, colour-blocking fan who likes space and order, Al Taylor’s (1948’1999) concise, abstract collection of sculptures and drawings at David Zwirner’s London gallery, is a particularly punchy exercise in clarity and equilibrium.
There’s something about the expanse of white space, punctuated with angular protrusions that feels current and cuttingly modernist for a collection of works that were mostly produced in the mid to late 1980s. But then, everyone loves the 80s right now’ As a viewer, I’m into a little artistic austerity and Taylor’s aptitude for spatial awareness and knowing when to turn the volume down works particularly well in this kind of environment. Space, and lots of it, seems to be the point of the experience.
Taylor’s transition from a studio painter and draughtsman to sculptor, scavenger and assembler in the mid 1980s is clearly signposted by his ‘Latin Studies’ series (1984’5), gathered together for the first time in London. The paradigm shift was not so significant for Taylor perhaps, who saw the transition from 2D to 3D as merely an extension of the visual experience; his sculptures simply, and characteristically concisely, conceived of as ‘drawings in space’.
These earliest works take the form of literal extensions from the canvas - they are not seamless, they are often conflictingly coloured, with visible joins, a bit clunky, a bit DIY - but these pieces represent that pivotal moment in his career. They represent a period of visual experimentation as Taylor sought out new ways of experiencing art; encouraging viewers to look through it, around it, above it. And although 2D drawings often accompany each abstract 3D piece, there’s an element of chicken-and-egg syndrome here - it’s not always clear which came first. Neither does it matter, if Taylor saw both artistic practices as being mutually inclusive. There is a sense of fluidity between what you see on paper and what you experience in 3D.
As you move onto works made in the early 1990s, they become evidently more precise. Construction is tighter and colour is more often applied in controlled and considered measures. Line, shadow and form take precedent. But the sparseness isn’t without warmth; Taylor nudges you into making great leaping assumptions with subtitles such as ‘Untitled: (Bra)’ 1987, ‘Untitled: (Pick-Up) #2’ 1990 and ‘Untitled: (Eating With Children)’ 1986.
Taylor brought an order, of sorts, to these disassembled, discarded objects that he largely picked up from the streets of New York. They become contemporary totems in the gallery setting; somewhat sanitised from their scavenged roots’ and maybe this is what makes his work feel so current, even a little zeitgeisty. Taylor’s ability to create clean lines and clarity from objects otherwise overlooked for their inherent lack of beauty, or value, is what shouts loudest in this otherwise visually sparse and pared-back exhibition.