Art and architecture: which comes first?

CHAPTER 3: On the wall/off the wall

Architecture has always played an important role in art display. But in the 1960s, artists began to engage architecture as an active component of their work. The phenomenological implications of this strategy—artworks are never static, but always active—continue today. Lee Lozano, Donald Moffett, and Paul Chan illustrate the different ways in which this approach can be applied: the shadows in Lozano’s Stroke are as much a part of the artwork as the canvas itself; Chan’s silhouettes in 2nd Light wouldn’t be visible were it not for the floor upon which they’re cast. Rachel Harrison offers a tongue-in-cheek twist on this tradition by featuring an actual wall in her sculpture, Buddha With Wall.

This art object can not be displayed

Lee Lozano
Newark, New Jersey, 1930 - 1999, Dallas

106.68 cm x 106.68 cm (42 in. x 42 in.)
Purchase through the generosity of The Judith Rothschild Foundation and the Michener Acquisitions Fund, 2001

By the mid-1960s, Lee Lozano was known for her monumental paintings of hardware. In the latter half of that decade, however, Lozano shifted gears, translating her signature style into a more sculptural language. With "Stroke" the artist broke free of the constraints of the canvas by perforating and layering canvases themselves. Using tools rather than depicting them, Lozano moved beyond two-dimensional painting to engage “real space” both in her process and in her finished work. Indeed, she referred to this body of work as “energy paintings,” aiming to capture “the energy which emanates from the forever conflict in painting between . . . its static solid-matter surface and the passages of movement and time it evokes in the mind.”

Lot 102807X (Yellow)

Donald Moffett
San Antonio, Texas, 1955 -

Lot 102807X (Yellow)
Acrylic polyvinyl acetate on linen and wall, with rayon and steel zipper
182.9 cm x 182.9 cm (72 in. x 72 in.)
Purchase through the generosity of Houston Endowment, Inc. in honor of Melissa Jones, with support from Jeanne and Michael Klein and Lora Reynolds and Quincy Lee, 2014

Donald Moffett’s paintings often misbehave. For the past twenty years, Moffett has been unraveling the conventions associated with painting, perpetually renegotiating the terms of the most vaunted medium in the history of art. In works like this, part of a larger group of canvases Moffett calls “gutted” or “flayed,” he literally turns painting inside out, painting only the insides of their unzipped flaps. Zippers remind us of bodies they were designed to conceal. The yellow center of this painting is, upon close looking, not canvas at all, but rather the wall itself—a normally invisible backdrop recast as a focal point. In Moffett’s practice, centers and margins frequently switch places, leaving us to catch up with the changing rules of his game. Moffett established himself as an artist in the midst of the AIDS crisis and was a founding member of Gran Fury, an AIDS activist collective formed in 1989 in New York and famous for murals and posters they produced with slogans such as “Kissing Doesn’t Kill: Greed and Indifference Do.” Although Moffett’s political work and his painting practice are often examined separately, the AIDS epidemic has undoubtedly contributed to the persistent presence of the human body in his work. Even some of his most abstract-looking paintings register the body and hint at the pleasures it enjoys and the pains it endures.

Image credit:
Stuart Davis
Lawn and Sky, 1931 (detail)
Oil on canvas
The Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
Gift of Mari and James A. Michener, 1991