Sunday, November 22, 2009

Kenneth Baker reviews Tucker Nichols!

Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle Sat Nov. 21

Can art be as easy as Tucker Nichols makes it look?

Maybe, in his hands. But bear in mind when you see his enjoyable show at Gallery 16 how much he benefits by historical circumstances not made by him and not evident in the exhibition.

A long line of self-effacing, even self-abasing art gestures stretches from early Dada days through Fluxus to the contemporary prizing of the slight and ephemeral above the grand statement and heroic artistic ego. Nichols finds himself working close to the spearhead of this progression.

When he uses found stones and a salvaged wooden stool to produce a counterpart to Constantin Brancusi's "The Kiss," of which Brancusi (1876-1957) made many versions, Nichols banks on an audience well informed enough to get the joke and the quotients of homage and apology in it. He could not anticipate such reception had not reproductions of Brancusi's work flooded the world long before.

Perhaps Nichols had the 2000 Sol LeWitt retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in mind when he devised the very limited edition wallpaper showing at Gallery 16 for the first time.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) famously produced wallpaper blazoned with life-size fuchsia cows' heads on a mustard yellow ground. But Nichols' wallpaper - immensely magnified hand-brushed blue verticals, with drips, on a white ground - responds more directly to LeWitt's wall drawings.

LeWitt (1928-2007) took abstract drawing up to the scale of Jackson Pollock's paintings by doing it directly on the wall. But LeWitt deliberately downplayed touch and delegated to others the execution of most of his drawings.

Nichols' wallpaper magnifies his touch, which does not make it expressionistic, yet somehow produces an elevated feeling in the viewer. It is almost as if Nichols had unconsciously recollected Matisse's art at its most consoling through the screen of LeWitt's wall drawings.

The wallpaper offers the feeling of moving impossibly close to the relaxed caprices of the hand that Nichols' small paintings, drawings and inscriptions display.