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Withheld

Artists: Martin Brief, Nicholas Knight, Aimee Helen Koch, and Kevin Regan.

The curatorial theme for this small group exhibition is the intentional withholding, withdrawing, erasure, obscuring, or obfuscating of information, both visual and verbal.

There are two points of departure. The term skotison, the ancient Greek word that means “to darken,” comes to mind. In literature, skotison is intentionally obscured speech or writing, designed to confuse an audience rather than clarify an issue. However, such confusion often leads to clarity, to new ways of thinking. The second reference is Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased De Kooning (1953), a work created from a drawing given to him from the famous Abstract Expressionist painter. Rauschenberg erased the marks on the paper, gave it a new title, and declared it his own work of art.

Withheld is a visual show. The idea has been built up organically from the works themselves, allowing legible dialogue among the works and providing the opportunity for viewers to make their own aesthetic and intellectual connections.

In his ongoing project of ink drawings on vellum, Martin Brief rigidly traces the outlines of text on pages from Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, starting with the letter A. “There are two forces at work in The Dictionary Series,” the artist writes. “One that eliminates all possibility of definition and one that clearly and accurately defines. In the former, it is no longer possible to know the definitions of the words simply because all of the text has been removed. And in the latter the geometric patterns precisely define the space where the text had been.”

Nicholas Knight diagrams sentences—a once-common educational exercise that has all but disappeared in primary schools. As the visual image of a grammatical structure, a sentence diagram teaches its creator the proper uses and meanings of parts of speech; its goal is to strengthen language skills and clear communication. However, the sentence diagram breaks apart the linear nature of a sentence, treating meaningful words as raw material for a rote educational exercise. In his work, Knight makes the relatively naturalized act of reading into a puzzle that must be solved, but not without reward. The quotations he selects come from the writings of artists, authors, thinkers, and politicians, all of which provide philosophical nuggets to stimulate the mind.

After photographing Parisian fashion models on the runway and backstage, Aimee Helen Koch digitally removes all traces of their bodies. Bypassing familiar issues about models as distorted feminine ideals, she looks at the clothes themselves, relating them to questions of desire and disclosure. Koch writes, “Fashion is ultimately about being undressed. The fascination of veiling lies in unveiling. Glimpses of the body activate a desire to reveal portions screened by clothing. Thus, the absent body is immensely more enticing than its present counterpart.”

With sly references to twentieth-century art, Kevin Regan also uses digital manipulation. For Untitled, he purges key details—title, author, picture, and other publication information—from the paperback cover of a book on Postminimal art. In a second work, entitled Voidd, Regan scans a reproduction of Leap into the Void, a famous photograph by the French artist Yves Klein—except that Klein himself, who in the original work is seen midair after jumping from second-story window, has disappeared. (The 1959 photo is itself a manipulation: the artist jumped onto a stack of mattresses on the street, which was removed in the darkroom.) Regan’s work removes customary and expected information, asking us to make leaps of our own.

By chance, the color palette for the exhibition is black and white, which lends a certain kind of seriousness to the show. I am reminded of the sober look of classic Conceptual art from the 1960s, and the films of Jean-Luc Godard from that same decade. The comparison fits: those artists broke new ground by abandoning artistic traditions and cinematic conventions, infusing their work with a liberating spirit. Despite the initial pessimism surrounding art about obscuring and withdrawing, I would like to think that the four artists in this exhibition have the same liberating outlook.

Submitted in January 2008 to Stonefox Artspace in New York.