Contributed by Jonathan Stevenson / In his beguiling new show of abstract paintings, drawings, and collages at Frosch & Co., Robert Yoder elegantly demonstrates a truth of late modern art: that an object found and isolated, or visual representation shorn of context, is no more derivative or inferior than a given moment in time is subordinate to one that preceded or followed it. What makes it original is the artist’s unique choices in presenting it to the world – and, by implication, the singular experiences and insights that informed them.
Indicating at once confrontation and impermanence, the exhibition is called “A Line in the Sand.” Each of Yoder’s 17 compact pieces features a central image, assertively offered. Yet each also suggests loss in ongoing transition. Personal sequestration, and perhaps its intensification due to the Covid-19 pandemic, has influenced his turn in this direction. “This body of work started out as an examination of identity,” he says. “As the work became more abstract, and as I let myself get lost in it, I realized the work was more about isolationism and the suffocation that can come from that. The images are spaces in which being alone comes with a certain amount of resignation.”
To a piece, these are seamless fusions of the artistic act and the existential metaphor of redaction. One painted crimson rectangle lies atop another, rendered unequal by way of a triangular chunk removed from a corner. Three black collage pillars appear to have been cut off at the knees, as it were, damaged but still standing. Destabilizing a seemingly solid painted J shape is the aging corrugated cardboard that hosts it. In a couple of pieces, segments of faint line hold firm, yet they are clearly orphaned from more integrated shapes or perhaps sentences. Precise excisions in a painted black block both enliven and compromise the form. An indecipherable signature humanizes collaged Guyton-esque streaks. Red duct tape on a mottled panel suggests a covered doorway bereft of accompanying structures. A sticker partially peeled off a found book cover resonates absence. One overarching suggestion here is that life itself is an irrepressible editor, time and other people its instruments.
Yoder is plainly, proudly, a reductive artist, but one with a warm heart. The variation in the surfaces of his untitled pieces, ranging from neatly wrought to purposefully distressed, confirms individual discretion and negates minimalist depersonalization. Aesthetically, the new work fits quite comfortably with that from his exquisitely personal 2011, 2014, and 2016 shows with Frosch – respectively titled “Beautiful William,” “Teenage Donna,” and ‘JAME6’ – which incorporated specific subtexts of intimate secrets and memories. There is robust continuity from one period to the next, and a distinct, sometimes melancholy stoicism emanates from all of Yoder’s art. But in “A Line in the Sand” he gets to a more universal level of humanism. If his older work imparted guarded empathy based on his own experience, the new work vaults to tough solidarity born of observations from an illuminating distance: we’re all by ourselves, to be sure, but also together, abutting and redacting one another.
“Robert Yoder: A Line in the Sand,” Frosch & Co., 34 East Broadway, New York, NY. Through July 3, 2022.