New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

Andy Goldsworthy
New York Dirt Water Light
Andy Goldsworthy

Art has taken such unlikely turns in the modern period that it often seems the last refuge of frauds. Yet art in the modern period has also made a place for odd and unexpected genius. Andy Goldsworthy is such a genius. Like a modern Merlin, he is a magician who works in tandem with the forces of Nature, creating art out of the stuff of the universe.

Most often this work takes the form of an ‘intervention’ in which the artist insinuates himself into a natural process in order to shape it, the resultant shape simultaneously a concrete thing, an artifact, and a powerful visual metaphor whose deep, archaic undertones resonate in our minds long after the artifact is gone.

Due to the typically transitory and site-specific nature of Goldsworthy’s art, photographs are often all that remain. On view at the Lelong gallery is a series entitled “New York Dirt Water Light.” In this unfortunate departure from his usual practice, Goldsworthy has chosen to work in that most urban of environments, Times Square. Using water as a drawing material, he makes marks on the ground which then change over time, documenting this change in a long horizontal series of near identical images, now spanning the gallery. As with his other work he has attempted to orchestrate natural processes, but this time his handling of these processes is so flimsy, so inconsequential really, the work becomes about the idea of those processes rather than the processes themselves. His various marks, the zig zags and swirls and puddles, function more as signs that refer to the phenomena of precipitation, condensation, evaporation, and reflection than actions that harness them. In “New York Dirt Water Light” Goldsworthy veers well away from the sensual poetry he is known for, and dangerously close to a purely conceptual art form.

Conceptual art is a form that abandons poetry for prose and the concrete metaphor for the abstract generalization. A genre which relies on the subsidiary explanation to carry the day, while the main event hangs there naked on the wall or in the middle of the gallery, entirely inadequate to retain our interest, conceptual art has the great advantage of providing the academic with abundant room for analysis and categorization.

Hence the commentary usurps center stage, becoming far more important than the work itself, at the same time reassuring people that they are looking at something ‘profound,’ albeit boring. And lastly, most conceptual art relies upon photographic documentation invariably done in the dullest way possible– as if dullness itself were a testament to high seriousness.

It is distressing to see an artist of Goldsworthy’s real greatness succumb to this trend.

Though it pains me to say this of someone I greatly admire, this show is misguided. Not because of the urban context, but because Goldsworthy has not found sufficient material there to work his magic. In environments where he is more at home, his attunement to the forces of nature has inspired him to create some of the most original, moving, and evocative art of the century.

But not here, alas, not here.

 by unidentified photographer.
Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy
New York Dirt Water Light

Galerie Lelong
528 W 26th St.
Chelsea         Map

212 315 0470

Thursday, May 6 to
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Hours: Tues-Sat, 10 to 6