Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Maura Segal’s Works are Grounded in Minimal Shapes and Line

Maura Segal, “Dutch Pancake,” acrylic and paper on canvas, 20×36 in.

Maura Segal isn’t the first artist to settle on a paradigm or format to repeat in a series of variations, nor is she the most extreme proponent of a fundamental modern, indeed Minimalist or Conceptual, approach. Donald Judd, for instance, designed the same metal box — technically described as a “hollow rectilinear volume,” to be made dozens of times for display together in an installation that raises the philosophical question: is an array or “stack” of many objects or just one? Andy Warhol created a format for a portrait photograph using a Polaroid camera and the same setup hundreds of times. In these works, the space or the design of the work challenges the object for primacy. Segal identifies minimalism as a major influence, making the observation by another artist, that the eight works in her untitled exhibition at Julie Nester Gallery repeated the same design elements, sort of a proof-of-concept.

Clearly, though, Segal intends viewers to perceive differences between them. There are eight works, but only six distinct titles between them. Two iterations are pairs, each numbered 1 or 2, hung together but, as the commercial cliché would have it, “sold separately.” So unlike those earlier examples, these can, and indeed should be, examined more closely.

“Dutch Pancake” exhibits all the characteristics in a combination relatively easy to see. There are three organizing principles, each a deliberately distinct layer on the panel. Each, like the component elements of modern architecture — the artist’s other point of reference — theoretically functions both independently and simultaneously as part of an ensemble. In avant-garde music, a possibly helpful comparison, five virtuoso players might wander and explore the performance space, each playing a solo in response to the space and the ambient sounds, of which the other four players are a part.

The ground layer of a Segal is the most elaborate, being meticulously constructed from countless strips of thin paper that may be on the surface of the collage, visibly distinct, or may have been covered by another paper layer, so that the pattern assumes a bas-relief quality. Paint application here forms an intermediate element in the construction rather than a color element. The dimension of color, divorced from the material dimension, is added in a separate layer, this one of geometric zones with boundaries that cut across the first. Finally, a virtuoso line of a single color, with neither beginning nor end, performs one or more journeys around and across the entire surface. To hold all these parts as she assembles the whole is a substantial feat in itself, one that recalls organist Virgil Fox’s observation that with Bach, he would be playing one voice in the left hand, a second in the right, and a third in the pedals. “If you follow all this, you will be busy,” he told his audience. “While I play it, I will be busier.”

Maura Segal, “10 Speed,” acrylic and paper on canvas, 20×20 in.

Comparison of “Dutch Pancake” with “10 Speed” reveals some of those fundamental forms, including the circular hole cut from a square, the round piece removed by the cutting, parabolas, curves derived from an architect’s drafting tool, and the most distinct being the array of radiating lines that might suggest either the pie-sections of the pancake or the spokes of a bicycle wheel. Clearly the titles are another of the de rigueur elements of art that are among the stacked boxes being ticked. That said, however, the cognitive, box-ticking mind is here put firmly in its place, which is always second to the senses, not just the major systems like vision, but more subtle and pervasive values like rhythm, texture, harmony, interval … all the components of aesthetics among them. Awareness of what’s said above makes an argument that may convince a skeptical mind, but the body is the place where these pieces do their most convincing and valuable work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.