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Review: Cell Block I and II
at Andrea Rosen Gallery

Cellblock I and Cellblock II, two separate but intertwined group exhibitions curated by Robert Hobbs and currently on display at Andrea Rosen Gallery engage the work they feature, one another as distinct shows, and their audience in an articulate exploration of the oscillation between means and meaning on several levels. A felicitous joint show with which to inaugurate Andrea Rosen’s newly opened space across the street from their main gallery, Cellblock I and Cellblock II pose questions about spaces that exist as other – out of sight, but never far from mind – and about how imaginations can craft reexaminations of confinement in and between these spaces. The works and the shows, both alone and in dialogue with one another, also evoke modern questions of art’s own existence in space and the means by which meaning is manifest spatially by materials.

Cellblock I inhabits the main gallery and brings together the work of Peter Halley, Robert Motherwell, Sterling Ruby, Kelley Walker, Alice Aycock and Robert Smithson (all of whom Hobbs has studied and curated separately, although never together). A symmetry across the two rooms of the galleries guides a discourse from abstracted ruminations of confinement to more textured and forceful works before coming full circle to finish with Motherwell’s abstract and highly referential Dover Beach III.

In the first room, a sandwiching of Peter Halley’s, The Big Jail and Stacked Rocks on either side of Robert Smithson’s Towards the Development of a “Cinema Cavern” projects an invisible place beyond the canvases of the works onto the space of the gallery. The central window of a prison cell and square stack of cast fiberglass stones in Halley’s works become secondary to the borders that frame them and which expand into the gallery, entrapping the viewer.

In the second, smaller room of Cellblock I, Sterling Ruby’s 10 unique collages Black Formal Pelican Bay, and Alice Aycock’s drawing Project for an Underground Maze (#2) present two dark imaginings of the possible prisons and labyrinths of our minds while obfuscating the accessibility of their own meanings in terms and by virtue of materials. Kelley Walker has three delicately layered and slightly disorienting collage works in Cellblock I that are obfuscating in their own way by fogging what is presented versus what is out.

Just across the street, Cellblock II: An Exhibition In Essay Form places over two dozen works from nearly 20 artists in a single room, augmenting the sense of confinement without feeling cluttered. Many of these works are haunting and films such as Bruce Naumann’s Contrapposto, Vito Acconci’s Claim Excerpts, and Jean Genet’s Un Chant D’Armour can be found alongside photographs by Nancy Holt, Ad Reinhardt silkscreens, sculptures by Donald Judd and more. Works by Halley, Smithson, Motherwell, Ruby, and Aycock also fill this gallery.

Hobbs helps guide the viewing of this show with three wall texts explaining the concepts of the panopticon, the black box and Plato’s cave. These three ideas bind the works and focus attention back to a central theme of both shows – the oscillating shift between means and meaning in metaphorical cellblocks of artwork.

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