Contributed by Gina DeCagna / Capacious and compelling in content, “Under Erasure,” co-curated by Raphael Rubinstein and Heather (Bause) Rubinstein on view at Pierogi Gallery through January 27, yields a significant platform for discourse on an evolving area of intersectional media and politics: written language and visual art. The exhibition — which focuses on works that employ erasure as a technique — serves like a sophisticated Wikipedia entry that outlines who has been in conversation with whom, itself a kind of discursive palimpsest. It gives updated definition to the predominantly New York-based practitioners working at this intersection since the 1960s, showcasing how the distinctive features of abstract or representational painting — as well as experimental or conceptual writing, poetry, and conceptual art — have all comingled and blurred boundaries to create meaning. The semiotic underscore is that “Under Erasure” is neither of art, nor of literature; it is of both, simultaneously, as a tangled exchange.
Subversion can be seductive, a well-known premise evidenced throughout the exhibition, as some practitioners have playfully used the revision of language as painterly material or literary device — while many others have erased and redacted as a cogent political stance. Breaching authority, we see this in cross-outs on formal documents or via poets on Twitter, as Rachel Stone analyzed in The New Republic or via thedeletionist.com, included in the exhibition. Art that relies on language as material (or as image) exhibits a need for greater control over that artwork’s interpretation. Jean-Michel Basquiat, included in the exhibition and cited within the catalogue, explained that he “cross[ed] out words so you will see them more; the fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them.”
Feminism also surfaces in the exhibition. Some of the work by female artists uses language specifically as reclamation: to overpower patriarchal implications and to showcase the complexity of their own intellect. During the panel discussion at Pierogi Gallery, Mira Schor hearkened back to Virginia Woolf’s seminal text regarding the matter, A Room of One’s Own; this reminded me of conversations surrounding Lisa Pearson’s Siglio Press, which publishes visual-written material by women artist-writers with unique visions.
Throughout the show, the process of using erasure and rewriting to question and redistribute power is evidenced in rich examples of individual experimentation. The curators could have included more cross-generational play, such as the instance when Rauschenberg famously erased a de Kooning. They also might have engaged in the contemporary “decolonist” discourse around the power and exclusion inherent in the Euro-centricity of the New York art world, which Basquiat and Glenn Ligon begin to address in their cross-historical pieces. M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!, a book-length poem included in the show, poignantly addresses injustices during the 18th-century slave trade. For an expanded, more global survey, readers should see The Word is Art (Thames & Hudson, October 2018), a new book by Michael Petry of MOCA London that includes more than 150 international artists who continue the visual conversation across languages.
“Under Erasure,” co-curated by Heather (Bause) Rubinstein and Raphael Rubinstein. Pierogi, New York, NY. Through January 27, 2019.
About the author: Originally from the New York metro area, Gina DeCagna is an artist, writer, and editor living and working in London. She is pursuing her MFA at Goldsmiths, University of London.