On September 9th, Zwirner & Wirth will present an exhibition of early sculptures from the 1960s and early 1970s by the American artist John McCracken. The exhibition will comprise a selection of significant works from the period during which McCracken rose to prominence with his monochromatic geometric sculptures.
The works assembled, which include a group of wall reliefs, pedestal works, planks, and a large freestanding cube, will highlight McCracken's early experiments with fundamental, architectonic forms and vibrant reflective surfaces. Though the artist's recent work has been exhibited of late, this will be the first exhibition in New York since the 1960s to focus on McCracken's early sculpture, illustrating the beginning of his continued investigation of reduced geometric form and saturated color.
McCracken developed his early sculptural work while studying painting at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland (1957-1965). While experimenting with increasingly three-dimensional canvases, the artist began to produce objects made with industrial techniques and materials, including plywood, sprayed lacquer, and pigmented resin, creating the highly-reflective, smooth surfaces that he was to become known for. His earliest sculptures took the form of wall-reliefs and free-standing geometric forms, and, in 1966, McCracken generated his signature sculptural form, the plank, a monochromatic rectangular board form that leans at an angle against the wall (the site of painting) while simultaneously entering into the three-dimensional realm and physical space of the viewer. With the plank, McCracken created a definitive work that addresses the primary concerns of minimalism: the desire to reject the two-dimensionality of the picture plane for a new art that contextualizes the architecture in which it is presented and that references and includes the viewer.
While the bold colors and shiny surfaces of his sculptures seem to reject the appearance of the handcrafted, McCracken has always made his work himself: his objects are products of a slow and laborious process of woodworking and finishing. For the artist, color, though inherently abstract, is used as a "material," and the highly-saturated, monochromatic surfaces of his works are sanded and polished to produce such a high degree of reflectiveness that they simultaneously activate their surroundings and seem translucent. Thus, the objects gain a singular and almost otherworldly quality, appearing at once physical and immaterial. Though often compared to the work of such artists as Carl Andre, Donald Judd, and James Turrell, McCracken’s oeuvre occupies a unique position within the context of minimalist art in its expressiveness. The artist has termed his sculptures 'single-things,' things which refer to nothing outside themselves, but which at the same time refer, or relate to everything."¹
John McCracken's work has been widely exhibited in the United States and internationally. His first solo exhibitions took place at the Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles (1965); Robert Elkon Gallery, New York (1966); and Galerie Ileana Sonnabend, Paris (1969). He was included in such seminal exhibitions as Primary Structures, organized by Kynaston McShine at the Jewish Museum, New York and Five Los Angeles Sculptors, at the gallery of the University of California at Irvine (both in 1966). His work has been steadily exhibited since the 1960s, with recent exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (A Minimal Future? Art as Object 1958-1968, 2004) and at the Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Gent (2004-2005). The artist currently lives and works in New Mexico.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue that includes an interview with the artist conducted by Matthew Higgs.
¹ John McCracken, unpublished artist’s notebook entry, 1972.