Subtle and Sweet on Newbury Street

Earlier this month, the Barbara Krakow Gallery on 10 Newbury Street exhibited a new and seemingly random assortment of art, including works by Josef Albers, Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt, Brice Marden, Allan McCollum, Fred Sandback, and Bill Wheelock. Barbara Krakow includes international and local artists in her exhibitions. This is not necessarily because she is an egalitarian. She also uses her aesthetic judgment in choosing what artwork she will show.

It is true that her shows—at least this one—reflect the same minimalist subtlety that hides her gallery in the top corner of a discreet building on Newbury Street. After all, this is an inconspicuous—but influential—gallery that shows inconspicuous art. Though it is subtle, it is not unremarkable.

For example, work by Josef Albers, internationally known for his “Homage to the Square,” is shown in this exhibition, including “Grey Instrumentation I” (1975). The work is composed of squares within squares of such light hues that the work would fade into the wall if not for its frame. From the range of his colorful squares, Krakow has chosen two works that are almost colorless, which comes as a surprise considering Albers’ long past researching the psychology of color and the change of reading the same hue complemented with different colors.

“Untitled” (1994) by Greg Sandback might go unnoticed without one of the employees in the gallery pointing it out to a visitor or patron, despite its large size. Pink acrylic yarn is shaped into a triangle with the dimensions 19”x19”x19”. However, it is incredibly small compared to Sandback’s other sculptures, which are also composed of string but take up entire rooms in volume.

There is writing in “Lines from the sides, corners and center of the page to specific points” (1975) by Sol LeWitt, which cannot be seen until given close inspection. This work and the works sharing its wall space show white lines converging into a central point. This work also seems atypical of his personality. The works lack the rich color he has employed in the past, as well as paying more attention to line and less to special geometrical patterns shown in his other, more famous, works.


“The Red Cloud” (2001) by Bill Wheelock was by far the most impressive work in the show. It is comprised of strings of monofilament, and sections are painted red so that there seems to be a hazy, red sphere floating within a Plexiglas cube when seen from a distance. The unimaginable use of space, color, and medium in this work reflects the genius Wheelock makes us of in most of his works. However, his use of common materials—lines of texts in a jar or huge cubes of aluminum—and his toying with spatial perception seem out of place in Krakow’s gallery.

The works in this exhibition do not shout like the colors in a Kandinsky or the eyes in a Goya. In fact, a lot about the art is very passive in presentation and needs to be closely examined. It is all about quiet line in these classy, unobtrusive artworks.

However, the lives of many of these artists have been dedicated to the study of color, geometry and works that spatially shock their viewers. The Barbara Krakow Gallery’s exhibition in no way draws its meaning from the artists or engages with the conceptual consideration evident in the works of art displayed.

The gallery thus created its own artistic space, annihilating any meaning the artists infused into their work. The works are compiled under a contemporary-minimal-conceptual classification, which is based on what might be seen at first glance, not their art history, school, or meaning. This seemingly arbitrary group of works are together only because they all look good together in a room.

The exhibition has no title, the artists’ names are rarely placed beside their works and one work is isolated from the rest in a small adjoining room. The gallery seemingly attempts to create a group of works that are all outwardly minimalist and match her aesthetic standards, paying little attention to what a museum curator takes into account when creating an exhibition.


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