AfterimageMay-June, 2009


The Magnification of Space


by Jody Cutler (excerpt)


David Haxton has a peer relationship with the Bechers in an art-world context as stable mates at Sonnabend Gallery in the mid-1970s, where work that elided Minimalist and Conceptual forms, including photography and performance, was prevalent. Within this milieu, Haxton's aesthetic is close to that of Mel Bochner and Barry Le Va. For two decades Haxton has photographed abstract tableaux that he creates in empty studio spaces with paper backdrops employed in conventional studio photography. He begins with a makeshift wood and metal human-scale box-frame that delineates the parameters of the ensuing installation, Lengths of the papers are then suspended from the faux rafters, ornamented with square-ish, razor-edge perforations and lit dramatically to affect layers of chiaroscuro patterning. The positive cut-outs are left in the shallow photographic floor space along with strategically strewn clamps, clips, and paper rolls, insinuating, according to the artist, the moment each hanging has been completed. The performance aspect grows out of Haxton's early 16mm films, in which he draws contours in space with his body, often ending with their inverse, systematic erasure. (2) In his photographs, the physical activity is toward the goal of the photograph a priori, conveyed not least from his choice of medium-referential props.

The insular nature of Haxton's project and the arbitrary cuttings recall the Dada of Jean Arp's collages and Kurt Schwitters's Merzbau (1923-43). However, Haxton's scrims are definitively and cleanly worked into a pictorial space. With the high-keyed lighting through the "windows," the grammar of modern buildings is strongly evoked, underscored by the urban view from the second-story gallery's large window that effectively comprises one wall of the show. Three large-scale white-on-white (color) prints starkly connote gestalt-like incarnations of the modern high-rise, with floor lamps illuminating the mise-en-scene, within the delimited stage. In this reading, the scrappy remnants below, which reveal the truth behind each image, double as mild metaphoric detritus in a streetscape.

A few of the works feature crumples and folds that suggest stagnated or re-directed construction as well as the artist's quietly emotional engagement with his selected materials; several contrast unadorned sheets of color with the skeletal, punctured ones, adding gradients of opacity and translucency to the shadow play. The repetitive but hand-hewn signature imprint of the holes re-inscribes the regularity of Haxton's artistic operation and the patient energy with which he has pursued the mining of self-delimited means for the essence of fundamental phenomenological experience.

David Haxton: Color Photographs, Priska C. Juschka Fine Art, New York City