view of "3 Columns"
In Susan York’s installation at the Lannan Foundation, highly polished black beams, six feet tall by about
ten inches across, are installed in two corners of the white-cube gallery. They nestle snugly into the angles
of the walls, hovering a few inches off the ground and reaching somewhat less than halfway to the fourteen-foot
ceiling. York’s third “column,” installed toward the middle of the space, extends almost the entire distance,
from that ceiling to just off the floor. It might be tempting to write this work off as a late reprise of
classic Minimalism, in the mode of John McCracken—that is, as a younger New Mexican artist bowing to a
local master. But where McCracken’s Minimalism was largely about visible form and perceptual presence, York’s
work is centrally about a concealed materiality. You can’t just look at her columns; you need to discover
that they are made of solid graphite. They are the pencil leads that artists use to plan or make their art,
blown up to become the art itself. (In the Lannan lobby, York provides a rolling-pin-size sample of her medium
that visitors can handle or use to mark the guest book.) York’s central column weighs more than a thousand
pounds, another crucial, hidden datum that affects our reading of the work: The column doesn’t just extend
from ceiling to floor; it is improbably suspended there. An object that at first can seem to hover starts
to lower once you know its weight. Female artists engaging with Minimalism—Eva Hesse, the young Judy Chicago,
Mona Hatoum—have often stressed materiality and its relation to embodiment. Interestingly, York’s contribution
to this tradition is built around material values—blackness, heft—that are traditionally gendered male.
Her works are not so much about the space they take up as the substance this space contains and what it means.
In York’s art, that is, what you see is positively not what you see, or get.