Looking at the excellent installation of Sandy Smith’s new work at the relocated ‘Space In Between’, I am reminded of those cool pictures of Eva Hesse’s New York studio in Lucy Lippard’s 1976 monograph. It’s not just the passing similarities between Smith’s combination of fabric and cast concrete, the repeated grids of his texts evokes some of Hesse’s aesthetic too. Hesse’s photographs recall a dynamic period beginning in 1966 when the language of sculpture was recast and focused on a young group of artists in New York. Smith is also based in New York and uses a visual vocabulary accented by this legacy.
The offset installations ‘Shelf work (pistachio plasticine)’ and ‘Shelf work (blue foam)’ (all works 2016) identifies Smith with Donald Judd’s precision, for the composition of his wall pieces starts to turn the architecture of the gallery into an extension of the grouped pieces. Smith’s larger scale projects as seen within his 2015 solo show in Detroit make clearer this interest in the sculpture articulating a habitable space with floating walls. Here, the suggestion of shelves and screens make links to Judd and Robert Morris unavoidable. The insertion of the plasticine, however, provides a playful even parodying spin on Minimalism. While the concrete reeks of ‘serious’ sculpture and an earnest ‘truth to materials’, plasticine is one of those throwaway materials of uncertain origin and function – it exists as a pliable substance to be melded and temporarily moulded. Inserting it into the shelf, nevertheless, Smith makes plasticine ravishingly beautiful.
Smith, in his statement for the show, says he has observed certain redactions in the public space in New York. Like many artists, he now regards the patterns and surfaces of the physical environment as an extension of immaterial data streams (as was also the subject of a joint exhibition by Lilah Fowler and James Irwin at Space in Between earlier this year). A series of works in the show derive from drawn texts that Smith progressively reduces (or redacts) and abstracts so that the works become illegible. This process results in a set of formally appealing lines and geometric shapes loosely set on grids that recall the graph paper process drawings of Hesse and also Sol Lewitt. ‘Alone Again’, for instance, repeats the title until the capitalised ‘A’s visually transform into a repeated line of pinnacles. The triangle form is also used in the shape of the supporting frame. Smith choose to print the text on to cotton voile which enhances the blurred mirage-like quality, the text itself being a redaction of the title of the psychedelic anthem ‘Alone again, or’ by rock group Love.
The stand out work of the show, ‘ASYOUWERE’, has its title text cut from brass to create a lattice that projects out into the gallery space. Smith’s impression is that the physical domain is now wrapped in continually active surfaces, giving the digital network a clear form. Intriguingly, here the screen of the text is resolutely fixed – brass embodies inertness and fixity in the opposite of the pliable potential of plasticine. Smith obviously delights in the constant transformation of text and objects yet the active element here is simply the effect of viewing the unified installation through the lattice of the text, the statement of which commands a relaxed presentness.