Roland Gebhardt's Minimalist sculptures on view in solo show at David Richard Gallery

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Roland Gebhardt's Minimalist sculptures on view in solo show at David Richard Gallery
Roland Gebhardt, Frame Series: Untitled (LV0117), (LV0116), (LV0115) and (LV00092), 2021 Poplar wood, acrylic paint. Each 9.75 x 9.75 x 2.75” © Roland Gebhardt, Courtesy David Richard Gallery.

NEW YORK, NY.- David Richard Gallery is presenting Diverse Vocabularies by Roland Gebhardt in his second solo exhibition with the Gallery in New York. The common thread in this presentation is the artist’s ongoing systematic exploration of voids in various sculptural objects. The sculptures in this presentation are made of natural or painted wood and range from free-standing floor works to pedestal pieces and wall sculptures. There are 4 additional wall sculptures comprised of paper, cut voids and matte black paint all hung from wood cleats. The nuance, and first of two curatorial foci in the presentation, is how the voids are realized, either literally as a dimensional void (or cut) in the material of an object or, the shape of the void painted graphically in matte black paint on the surface of the object.

There are 15 artworks and installation pieces in the current presentation. Four new “Frame” pieces make their debut: three have dimensional voids and one has graphic voids with the artist’s annotations in pencil. Gebhardt just completed a larger Frame wall sculpture that measures 42 x 42 inches square (not included in this presentation). The Frame pieces are essentially open frames comprised of two parallel vertical columns of wood laid on and attached perpendicularly in the corners to two parallel horizontal columns. The voids bisect the perpendicular wood columns at an angle to ironically, “create the connection” between the two columns (visually, not literally). The cast shadows and bounce of light off the white-painted, semi-gloss surfaces make each work dynamic. Installed in a row as a single installation piece demonstrates Gebhardt’s precision and passion for producing serial permutations in his series to fully explore the variations on a given analytical theme.

The floor pieces of natural wood are a deconstruction and re-presentation of the large installation piece exhibited in January and February of 2020 during the beginning of the pandemic and just prior to the shutdown of New York City. The entire installation, or according to the artist, the “tribe, is comprised of 49 vertical wood columns that are divided into 8 “families” or subsets, each characterized by a series of specific and rigorous systematic cuts (or voids) into each column to generate a series of permutations (or variations) within each family.

Each wood column is comprised of a single contiguous column topped with a cube made of the same wood such that the cube represents 1/7th of the entire height of the column (when assembled), which happens to also represent the proportion of a woman’s head to the rest of the female body - each column measures 26 x 3 ¾ x 3 ¾ inches. These details are noted as they demonstrate regardless of how reductive and minimalist Gebhardt’s artworks may be, they are rooted in and based on facts and aspects of the natural world that have a conceptual underpinning that may also serve as metaphors for many social and cultural concerns.

In the current presentation, 4 families (noted above) are presented, each as a single installation on the floor with each member of a family in close proximity to one another and in relation to the other works in the presentation. This is an important point and the second curatorial focus of the presentation, which is how the geometry of the cuts and voids creates not only a continuous dialogue within the separate families of a tribe or the common elements in an installation (such as the wall Frames or the paper wall sculptures with their dimensional and graphic voids), but also between different artworks on the floor, pedestals or walls and between the diverse materials. The vector geometry within Gebhardt’s sculptures both comprises and continues the trajectory of the voids into space and beyond the individual originating objects. The vectors of the voids (which become directional and essentially lines at some point) either run parallel to or intersect (theoretically in space) with the trajectories and vectors of other voids from other objects. While the viewer cannot see the actual intersection of each trajectory, the viewer’s eyes and mind can visualize and imagine such intersections, which creates a connection and point of interaction between separate objects within the same space.

This leads to the last and important point to be made with Gebhardt’s sculptures and work, which is the individual sculptures, installations and tribes (or sometimes, large installations are referred to as constellations) not only act alone or within similar installations and groupings, or even between other sculptures and objects, as noted above, but with the actual space they are situated in. Said another way, each presentation of the sculptures is unique in regard to each space of each presentation (even if different spaces have the same sculptures and arrangements). The reason is because the lighting and wall surfaces are different in each space as well as different ceiling heights, wall angles, corners and other elements that create their own interactions with the sculptures (such as duct work, track lights, wall trims), their voids and resulting vectors and trajectories. Even though Gebhardt’s sculptures are reductive and minimalist in their aesthetic, there are layers of complexity when one considers voids within and between works that justify the artist’s systematic, methodical and empirical approach. As noted, there are also interactions and unique complexities due to the presentation space. However, the artist cannot foresee nor control those interactions and that is part of the unknown and charm as he releases each sculpture into the world.

Roland Gebhardt’s studio practice has always addressed objects and how they are situated, both in space and within a space. The spatial considerations within a space are either with an isolated object and its relationship to the surroundings or other objects in proximity to one another. Such concepts can be quite complex and mind boggling. Therefore, the investigations must be very simple, focusing on a single concept at a time. This also requires that the objects be elemental, reductive with minimalist shapes and no color. This is why Gebhardt has always worked with materials that are basic in art making, such as paper, wood, aluminum and steel. His palettes are simple and mostly the natural color of the materials or white with an occasional use of black. Black is an interesting color and an important aspect of the previous and current presentation as noted.

Voids have also been an important and foundational part of Gebhardt’s artworks. What is meant by “voids” are the bits and aspects of an object, or a space that are not there, that which has been removed or not included. It is not that voids or the focus on them is about the removal or loss of something or some part of an object, nor what was taken away or lost. On the contrary, it is just the opposite, Gebhardt focuses on what the voids create. A void can create, first and foremost, a new way of looking at something, putting an emphasis on an aspect that would otherwise be overlooked. Conversely, the absence of something can make one appreciate the missing element or form, or the integrity it imparts on the “whole; or the elegance of the sum of the parts to begin with, ie. the whole.

Gebhardt’s presentations of his experiments, in their entirety or in part, or exhibitions of his summary conclusions from his empirical observations have also illustrated that voids between similar or dissimilar objects can and often do read as the same void. It is not surprising that similar objects made of the same materials would share a kinship such that a void in-line or proximity of one object would read as the same gap or void of a different object. In fact, when an array or series of objects of the same material have systematic permutations regarding a void, whereby there is a subtle shift in the location, angle, depth or width of the cut or void, it can also read as a design element or some extreme perspectival aspect of the object that changes the viewer’s consideration of the object or elemental form.

What is more intriguing and opens the viewer’s mind with respect to the relationships between adjacent or nearby objects is Gebhardt’s demonstrations with objects of different materials, such as wood and stone, or steel and wood, or aluminum and paper, among numerous other diverse combinations, including fresh fruits and vegetables. When objects of different materials have voids that are in-line with each other in certain permutations and combinations, it creates a dialogue between otherwise disparate and unrelated materials or forms. Thus, the viewer becomes sensitized to looking for relationships (real or illusory, such as planar or linear connections) between materials and objects that they would otherwise not consider. This is clearly a metaphor for much more cultural and sociological parallels that actually do work their way into another very different aspect of Gebhardt’s artistic and humanitarian interests and the subject of a different discussion.

Moreover, Gebhardt’s investigations have also revealed that the physical, or what he refers to as dimensional voids and cuts into materials and objects can be mimicked graphically with matte black paint when applied in the same proportions and locations on an otherwise identical object. What is interesting is the matte black paint as it wraps around a corner of an object or traverses between adjacent objects gives the illusion of a void that pierces the surfaces, thus suggesting the illusion of dimensionality and depth on another wise flat surface. Of course, if the dimensionally cut and painted objects are adjacent to one another with bright raking light and depending upon the depth of the void, the cast shadows of the dimensionally cut surface will read very different next to the black painted object. However, generally and certainly at a first glance, the viewer’s mind is fooled with the graphic presentation of voids. The literal and painted shapes basically say or are read as the same thing, just with a “different vocabulary” according to the artist. This is another demonstration of the plural readings and interpretations between diverse approaches (dimensional vs graphic) and disparate materials (wood, stone, paper, metal or fruits and vegetables) as noted above.

Roland Gebhardt was born in Paramaribo, Suriname 1939. He studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich and earned a Master of Fine Arts at the Art Academy of Hamburg. He is a sculptor working in a variety of media and exhibits internationally. Probably best known for his large-scale environmental sculptures that explore the concept of “linear volume” and presented at Wave Hill and Storm King, both in New York in the early 1970s. Another important body of work was his examination of “host volumes” using a range of natural materials, including boulders, fruit and vegetables in a critically acclaimed series of eight single day presentations in 1982 at the Kunstmuseum, Duesseldorf.

Moving into a more conceptual realm, Gebhardt explored the complex subject of individual and group identity by leveraging sculpture and creating a series of masks to produce, “The Only Tribe”, a multi-media performance work at the 3LD Art & Technology Center in New York City in December of 2008. The theme of identity was further explored by incorporating dance with sculptural masks in 2013 at Storm King Art Center and on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution. "Trophies", a further iteration incorporating music explored identity and the transformation from a living being to a hunter’s trophy.

Gebhardt’s works are in the permanent collections of numerous museums and public collections, including: the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, NY; Neuberger Museum, State University of New York, Purchase, NY; Brandeis University, Waltham, MA; Kunstsammlung of the City of Ludwigshafen, Germany; Wave Hill, Center for Environmental Studies, Bronx, NY; among others as well as many corporate and private collections.

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