Nov 8, 2004 – Jun 30, 2005

The current installation of the Rachofsky Collection could hardly be more different from the one that preceded it. The previous display, inspired by the inauguration of the Nasher Sculpture Center, focused on sculpture in contemporary art, and how the art of the last five decades evolved from a medium based preoccupation to a content-based one. The current installation in a sense takes up where the previous one left off.

Built on an entirely different thought process, the current display examines contemporary art from a psychological perspective. It centers on art that is overtly personal, primarily figurative, mostly self-reflective. It also attempts to draw out the psychological qualities of works that might in other contexts seem to be concerned more with spatial than psychological examination. Take, for example, Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio by Lucio Fontana, created in 1964, a time that witnessed the exploration of outer space and nuclear destruction. The painting's compositional fragmentation, ordinarily associated with issues of perception, is presented here in juxtaposition with works by Michelangelo Pistoletto, Alighiero Boetti, and Sigmar Polke as a psychological trigger, a cornerstone for artists' exploration in recent decades into the self.

Aptly enough, fragmentation is a pervasive theme throughout the installation. In some spaces, such as the entryway, living room, and library, the psychological heat is intense. In others, like the kitchen, the urge for serenity is central. Many artists (including Sigmar Polke, Francesco Clemente, and Marc Quinn) explore psychological states from a personal perspective. Others (such as Jenny Holzer, Doris Salcedo, and Fred Wilson) use the psychological to examine cultural identity.

For yet others, the search for identity is a fusion of both: the personal is political. This is especially the case with Robert Gober, Félix González-Torres, Janine Antoni, and Glenn Ligon. These artists' exploration of issues of sexuality, wholeness, gender, and race parallels societal examinations into identity. Indeed, the voices of women, gays, blacks, and others previously marginalized from mainstream culture have established the central terms of artistic exploration today as issues of identity. And as artists in recent decades have searched to situate themselves in the world, many have come to question the very means of representation. Félix González-Torres, for example, has taken a typically "abstract" language and recast it as a vehicle for representation; his candy sculpture—a kind of surrogate self-portrait from which viewers are invited to feed, and which curators and owners are obliged to keep materially and spiritually "alive"—subverts (in the most generous way) the usual hierarchy between deified artwork and beholden viewer, between Culture and culture.

It may be hard to remember that just a few decades ago, when Minimalism reigned supreme, the "personal" was considered regressive, figuration a traditionalist taboo; artists like Louise Bourgeois and Philip Guston were working outside the boundaries of what the avant-garde considered valid territory. But today we look at Guston's painting Jail, of 1969, as heroic, a tormented struggle between the abstract values of his time (and of the art that made him a revered success) and the repressive images of hooded figures, cell-like buildings, and clocks ever marking time, whose emergence in his art he seemed helpless to cover up—a very comment on the repressive nature of selflessness. Works such as this, created at the beginning of the artist's return to figuration, caused Guston to be ostracized from his generation but also eventually made him a reigning spirit to artists in recent decades searching for meaning in personal identity.

It is also interesting to consider the Eva Hesse painting of 1960–61, made at the very beginning of the artist's development. This work, a self-portrait, is so brutally honest one senses that the artist spent her entire artistic evolution escaping its self-truths. In it, Hesse depicts herself with eyes that cannot see and a mouth that cannot eat or speak; she portrays her brown hair as a blond so gold it seems to be melting as if in a smelter (Hesse's family fled Nazi Germany in 1938), her body cut off, presumably bound, as if she were a patient on a gurney. Indeed, Hesse's artistic trajectory is one of increasing abstraction: Her paintings made after the self-portraits become compartmentalized, her images less identifiable, eventually mutating into sculptures that, while still clearly referencing the body, become ever more deeply connected to the systematization and non-representational nature of Minimalist art.

Hesse established a "feminine" sensibility in what was an otherwise decidedly muscular and male-dominated sculpture movement, and she, too, is a reigning spirit to younger artists examining the personal. Her work gave permission to successive generations to explore themselves, to celebrate their unique voices in ways that would have violated the rules of even Hesse's anti-authoritarian generation, in ways from which even Hesse seemed to move further and further away. Hesse died in 1970 at age thirty-four, and one wonders if she were still making art what the artists for whom she paved the way might in turn have empowered her to explore.

Allan Schwartzman
Director of the Rachofsky Collection