Gordon Hall at Hesse Flatow
Looking at Gordon Hall’s satisfying exhibition, called “End of Day,” viewers may become slightly bemused by the press writings, which emphasize the art’s connection to the end of a workday. The sculptures, extreme in their simplicity and sometimes connected to furniture--one notable piece is a piece of furniture, a wooden valet designed to hang clothes on and covered with the round heads of nails--also relate to minimalist forms, however domesticated they may be. Hall’s career has been rising for some time: he has shown solo at the M.I.T. List Center and will be a faculty member at Skowhegan. His work can be considered a collaboration with ideas and themes of the present and a recognition of sculpture’s recent past.
“U Stool” (2020) is a three-dimensional U-shaped form, a few inches thick and over a foot tall. The title announces its practical use, influencing our reading of the form as a figurative object. But it is just as much a profoundly abstract sculpture, linked to a simplicity we find in minimal art. Thus, the title doesn’t fully clarify the nonobjective expression that is as much a part of the work as the function it has been assigned. Perhaps this is a way of shifting our regard away from an abstract reading toward something homelier, more purposeful in real life. Yet the form itself stands out as a piece of inspired simplicity, the latter being highly contributory to its effect. “Companion Stool” (2020), like “U Stool” made of pigmented cast concrete, resembles a functional piece of furniture; its major plane slides downward, supported by rectangles of concrete taller at the top and smaller at the bottom. One cannot imagine sitting comfortably on the seat, which is set low to the floor. But the practical element is evident, even though it relates well to abstraction as an object. The contrast between the two works’ apparently worldly application and their reading as examples of pure form is what sustains them as art.
“Sash” (2021), a simple strip of paper a couple of inches wide, is colored orange with pencil. It hangs about six feet high on the wall and could not be simpler--or more attractive. Hall’s objects are so reductive as to compel some small skepticism as to their longevity, yet they are made of permanent materials such as concrete and wood. But “Sash” is ephemeral from the start, and that is a major element of our enjoyment. “Leaning Back (1)” (2021) looks very much like a four-foot-tall back of a chair, the hard maple wood is quite light in color. Conical tops of the piece increase our feeling that we are looking at a disembodied piece of furniture--there is no seat, only the rungs, connected to the vertical supports on each side, as the chair leans from floor to wall. Here Hall’s treatment of the form keeps it closer to an actual object than something nonobjective--despite its unusual form as a chair’s elongated back alone. As usual, the simplicity of form is a strength and not a weakness, making even small details stand out.
“End of Day” (2021), a commercially made valet for clothing, has been transformed by hundreds of nails driven into the object. Their round heads exist everywhere except on the very top of the valet. Hall has taken something practical, existing for use in the real world, and changed it into an esthetic object by covering the surface with the metallic gray, round tops of the nails. In a quiet way, “End of Day” is a surreal experiment, in which a worldly object is changed into an artistic one by virtue of surface alteration. I am not sure this action works entirely; the valet remains a valet despite Hall’s treatment. But the process in this piece, namely, the close connection between the recognizable and the nonobjective, ties it to the other works of art. Hall’s domestication of abstraction adds a layer of common realism to an otherwise elegant presentation of form. Doing this increases the complexity and value of the pieces, whose double existence enlarges the way we see them.
Jonathan Goodman, April 27, 2021