Other Primary Structures: Working-through, Acting-out

July 17, 2014

In 1971, Foucault identified two kinds of retrospection: one that pursues origin; another that dispels its very possibility. The first, he called traditional history; the second, genealogy. Other Primary Structures is driven by both. It returns to Primary Structures in order to disrupt its canonicity, revealing the parochialism of the mid-1960s New York art world from the contemporary perspective of global art. It deploys architectural scaffolding and photographic mediation in order to underscore its curatorial intervention. It mimics the 1966 exhibition’s graphic identity so that we attend to its historical distance from the exhibition on view. All of these moves align Other Primary Structures with genealogy as the undoing of origin, identity, roots. If McShine’s exhibition crystallized Minimalism as a movement, one is struck here by how capacious, even eclectic, such a category might have been.

Yet if Other Primary Structures reveals Minimalism’s contingency as an art historical category, it does so by fetishistically reinscribing Primary Structures as the point of lost origin. This lost origin is fantastically reimagined at the end of the gallery spaces, where we glimpse brightly colored sculptural miniatures in an impossible dollhouse of abstract art. The black-and-white photomurals that dominate each gallery, meanwhile, paradoxically derealize the actual sculptures we are meant to experience in space. It is these sculptures—these “Others”—that now function as representations, forced into a role which merely illustrates their alterity from history as it has been received.

Jens Hoffmann has suggested that the “X” of Noemí Escandell’s Displacement, which opened the exhibition’s first iteration, stands for the “canceling out” of hegemonic narratives.[1] Yet rather than generate difference, such juxtapositions produce a curious sensation of sameness. This is pseudomorphology at its most insidious, even regressive. It entirely elides the historical specificity and singularity of the works on display. Kinetic art, Japanese Mono-ha, Brazilian Neoconcretism, and more are all collapsed into a non-place, non-time of form, line, and shape. McShine’s original show was equally formalist. But whereas that exhibition consolidated an emergent artistic practice, Other Primary Structures consolidates a highly problematic form of global art history, one that is no less hegemonic than the narrative from which it supposedly departs.






[1] Verbatim: Jens Hoffmann on “Other Primary Structures” at the Jewish Museum, Interviews Art in America (March 13 2014). Accessed June 23 2014: http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/interviews/verbatim-je...