Robert Therrien at Albright-Knox Art Gallery
by Paul Laster
American sculptor and draftsman Robert Therrien is best known for his oversize objects that surreally dwarf viewers to Lilliputian size. Born in Chicago in 1947, reared in San Francisco, and most recognized as a Los Angeleno, Therrien is a poetically minded artist, whose work bridges the gap between Pop Art and Minimalism. Making sculptures, drawings, prints, and photographs that are both representational and abstract, Therrien pushes commonplace stuff into the realm of the sublime.
The current survey of some 40 works by the West Coast artist at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo is an absolute delight! Organized by Heather Pesanti, a senior curator at The Contemporary Austin, the succinct show features several pieces from the legendary Panza Collection, which amassed Therrien’s whimsical works in depth, as well as loans from Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs, Gagosian Gallery, Flag Art Foundation, and other important collectors.
Made between 1974 and 2013, the austerely installed selection of work provides intelligent insight into Therrien’s captivating art. Without a doubt, the showstopper here is the 2006 sculptural installation No title (folding table and chairs, beige). The folding card table is eight feet high—high enough to walk under—and the four folding chairs—three surrounding the table and the fourth folded and leant against the wall—are nine feet tall. Perfectly fabricated, the piece looks exactly like the real thing, except at a psychological scale.
No title (stacked plates), also from 2006, offers an eight-foot stack of twenty plastic, diner-style plates that make you woozy with an optical interaction while circling them and 1989’s No title (silver pitcher) presents a stark, Bauhaus-style carafe that’s tall enough to hide a standing figure.
Meanwhile, a pair of porkpie hats resting on beams, No title (blue hat), 1974-79 and No title (yellow hat), 1986 bring the deadpan humor of Buster Keaton, who famously wore a similar style hat in his silent films, to mind.
Other repeated motifs include a chapel that’s reduced to its essence in a 3D painting and in works on paper, various interpretations of both a snowman and snowwoman, a simple bow rendered in both black plastic and brass, and a stainless steel oilcan in a variety of sizes.
Most of these subjects get visibility again in a 1988 portfolio of Therrien’s prints, which accompany poems by Michel Butor and Robert Creeley, one of Buffalo’s most beloved poets.
Robert Therrien is on view at Albright-Knox Art Gallery through October 27, 2013.
Paul Laster is a writer, editor, curator, artist and lecturer. He’s a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and writer for Time Out New York, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Galerie Magazine, Sculpture, Art & Object, Cultured, Architectural Digest, Garage, Surface, Ocula, Observer, ArtPulse, Conceptual Fine Arts and Glasstire. He was the founding editor of Artkrush, started The Daily Beast’s art section, and was art editor of Russell Simmons’ OneWorld Magazine, as well as a curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.
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