Andy Coolquitt, Agnes Denes, and Robert Smithson
Like energy, entropy is in the first instance a measure of something that happens when one state is transformed into another. – P.W. Bridgman, The Nature of Thermodynamics
Lisa Cooley is very pleased to present an exhibition of works by Andy Coolquitt, Agnes Denes, and Robert Smithson. An opening reception will be held on Saturday, September 24 from 6 to 8 pm, and the exhibition continues through November 6.
The three artists in the exhibition are united by an interest in energy in all its forms. Robert Smithson's work evolves from an interest in entropy - the degradation or disorganization of a closed system in which energy and matter ultimately decline. Andy Coolquitt counters Smithson, engaging energy directly, channeling it upward into his vertical sculptures made of found lighters and conjoined metal pipes, and creating works which double as centers of connectivity. Agnes Denes’ exquisite works on paper operate somewhere between Smithson and Coolquitt as they examine systems based in theories of probability with an openness that is suffused with possibilities.
Robert Smithson is represented in the exhibition with a drawing of his iconic work, Spiral Jetty, an entropic earthwork in the Great Salt Lake in Utah that is comprised of 1,500 feet of black basalt rocks, earth, and mud. Smithson's interest in the second law of thermodynamics reveals entropy as moving from a state of order to disorder, in the course of which matter inexorably loses energy. In time, the repeated process of submergence and re-emergence will ultimately lead to the erosion of Spiral Jetty and the work will cease to exist. For Smithson, the notion of closed systems is such that they inevitably produce patterns, which are subject to repeat over time until the original form is obliterated.
The work of Agnes Denes views systems as opportunities to create new forms. As she stated in 1986 “The universe contains systems, systems contain patterns. The purpose of the mind is to locate these patterns and to seek the inherent potential for new systems of thought and behavior.” In the Map Projections series, Denes meticulously hand draws our planet in a number of shapes, precisely mapping the longitudinal and latitudinal location. Intent on exploring the sculptural possibilities of celestial space, the Map Projections use mathematical theories to ground geometric renderings of our planet. Working within this system, Denes elaborates her own understanding of entropy as one in which "objects become processes and forms are patterns in motion. Matter is a form of energy and our own human substance is but spinning velocity."
A volumetric concern permeates Denes’ work, along with a sustained consideration of the transformation of space. The Pyramid series adopts an abstract mathematical theory inspired by Pascal’s Probability Theorem and explores the sculptural possibilities of this ancient three-dimensional object in space. A group of works from The Pyramid Suite embodies the artist’s elastic view of sculptural form. These unique lithographs are hand dusted with metallic powder using a specific process developed by Denes in 1974. The resulting forms are fluid pyramid shapes that twist and bend into avian forms and seem to move on the page as the viewer circles the work. The metallic dust imbues a three dimensionality into the work, imparting a vital, sculptural presence to the otherwise flat surfaces. The color of the shimmering metallic dust subtly changes when viewed from different angles, enlisting the viewer in the activation of the work.
Andy Coolquitt’s sculptures similarly engage the viewer through connectivity and interaction. A Soft Striped Place features two cushion-like sculptures mounted in a corner side by side. Coolquitt intends for the viewer and a friend (or foe) to lean up against them, creating a “soft striped place” to facilitate conversation. Similarly the light bulbs at each end of the sculpture liv wildz connect viewers to each other. As the light from the sculpture occupies a modest, nearby radius, it envelops and connects its viewers, creating a shared experience.
Coolquitt’s sculptures also transform abandoned objects into metaphors for energy. The act of collecting permeates the artist’s process as he scavenges the streets looking for objects to transmogrify. Rosemont Towers features a stack of discarded lighters that were found in vacated crack dens, an activity Coolquitt has been practicing for a number of years. The search for these “transportable energy packs” leads him through a psychogeographical dérive in each city he finds himself (the title of this work is a nod to the city of Baltimore.) Coolquitt resurrects these lighters, creating a tower that not only references these ad-hoc meeting places, but also utilizes the lighter as a leitmotif of energy and alludes to a human form. Coolquitt’s works frequently reference the body, as they casually lean against the wall or confront the viewer in space. With the use of an architecturally-referenced plinth and mounting bracket, Rosemont Towers is elevated into the arena of display, a construct that questions these contextual relationships.
All three artists works are formally united by an interest in the geometry inherent in their given forms. Smithson’s Spiral Jetty coils out into space as Dene’s gridded pyramids leap and jump off the page. Systemically stacked, Coolquitt’s lighter sticks and segmented pipes present a repetitive geometry of detritus at its best.
Robert Smithson was a seminal figure in the Land Art movement through the 1960s and 1970s and is best known for the iconic work, Spiral Jetty (1970). Smithson's critical writings have had an equally profound impact on contemporary art and theory. Major retrospectives of his work have been organized by the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Ithaca, New York (1980); the Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, Centre Julio González, Valencia (1993); the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo (1999); and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2005). Robert Smithson was born in Passaic, New Jersey in 1938, and died in 1973.
Agnes Denes was one of the first concept-based artists and was a pioneer in environmental art. Denes is perhaps best known for Wheatfield-A Confrontation (1982), a two-acre wheat field she planted and harvested in what is now Battery Park City in downtown Manhattan. A sustained interest in a variety of fields including science, philosophy, linguistics, psychology, poetry, history, and music has led to a complex practice that eludes simple categorization. Ms. Denes has participated in more than 450 exhibitions at galleries and museums throughout the world including, among others, solo shows at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (1974); the Institute of Contemporary Art, London (1979); and retrospective surveys at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. (1992); the Samek Art Gallery, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pa. (2003); and the Ludwig Museum, Budapest, Hungary (2008). Her work has also been featured in such international surveys as the Biennale of Sydney (1976); Documenta 6, Kassel, Germany (1977); and the Venice Biennale (1978, 1980, 2001). Ms. Denes currently has exhibitions on view at PROA Foundation, Buenos Aires (through September, 2011) and Erre: Variations Labyrinthiques, Centre Pompidou, Metz (September 12, 2011 - March 5, 2012). Forthcoming exhibitions include the Ludwig Museum, Koblenz, Germany (October 16, 2011) and the Art Institute of Chicago (December 11, 2011 – March 11, 2012). Ms. Denes was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1931, was raised in Sweden, and currently lives and works in New York.
Andy Coolquitt is perhaps most widely known for the house, a performance/studio/domestic space that began as his master's thesis project at the University of Texas at Austin in 1994, and continues to the present day. His sculptural practice is influenced by long-term interests in social work, macroeconomics, and alternative architecture. Recent exhibitions include + at Locust Projects, Miami (currently on view through October 15); Sculpture is three-dimensional artwork... at Galerie Johann Koenig, Berlin; dwelling at Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York; and Real Estate at Zero, Milan, Italy. In 2012 Coolquitt will have a solo exhibition at the Blaffer Museum in Houston, Texas, curated by Rachel Hooper. A full-color monograph published by UT Press will accompany the exhibition and will feature contributions from Dan Fox, Matthew Higgs and Jan Tumlir. His next solo show at the gallery will be in March 2012. Andy Coolquitt was born in Texas in 1964, and currently lives in Austin, Texas.
 Denes, Agnes. Lecture at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC, 1976. From the anthology SYMMETRY- Unifying Human Understanding, Published by Pergamon Press, 1986. © 1986 Agnes Denes.
 Denes, Agnes. “Isometric Systems in Isotropic Space—Map Projections 1973-79.” New York, NY: n.p., 1976. © 1976 Agnes Denes.