Rasheed Araeen – Minimalism Then and Now

When 7 May 2015 - 6 Jun 2015
Where Various locations

Aicon Gallery Exhibition: May 7 – June 6, 2015
Frieze New York: May 14 – 17 | Stand A21 – Randall’s Island

Aicon Gallery New York is proud to announce Rasheed Araeen – Minimalism Then and Now, the first major survey exhibition of the artist’s work in New York City. A pioneering artist and voice for alternative and Non-Western interpretations of Minimalist and Conceptual art in the 1960s and 70s outside of the typically referenced canon, Araeen’s work in this exhibition spans his oeuvre from his beginnings in Pakistan and London to the present day. The exhibition ranges from Araeen’s earliest and most iconic sculptures of the 1960s, through his pioneering kinetic, interactive and performance-based works, in addition to a group of increasingly complex relief constructions from his current practice. The exhibition at Aicon Gallery will be accompanied by a solo booth in this year’s Frieze New York, Stand A21, from May 14th though May 17th.

Writing on the occasion of Araeen’s retrospective at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery in 1988, editor and curator Patricia Bickers argued: “The formal language Araeen began to develop during the Sixties owed much to his critical awareness of Modernist discourse about abstraction, particularly the theories of Mondrian and the Constructivists. Such ideas were then still current in England.” Araeen himself pinpointed the influence of Anthony Caro on his developing practice. “I have often talked about my encounter with Anthony Caro’s works after I arrived in London in 1964 and its influence on what I myself subsequently arrived at in 1965, which turned out to be a form of sculpture that later became known as Minimalism.” For Araeen, it was not so much the forms of Caro’s artistry that were interesting but his use of engineering material such as steel girders which, as Araeen recalls, “had the appearance of having been picked up from a discarded heap of demolished engineering works.” At the time, Araeen was working as a civil engineering assistant in London, producing drawings of industrial structures. The two influences of Caro and his day-job came together with the drawing for Sculpture No. 1, conceived in December 1965, which detailed four steel girders symmetrically placed next to each other. Conceived in the same year, the drawing for Sculpture No. 2 again showed painted steel girders, this time arranged in four stacked layers.

However, Araeen was keen to move away from what he saw as an ongoing traditional approach to the relationship of work to its surroundings, seen in the work of London’s New Generation sculptors and others. Instead, he was keen to explore a more non-hierarchical relationship between the work, the viewer and the work’s surroundings. His solution was what he termed his ‘structures’—works made in open modular form that theoretically could be re-positioned by the viewer. Moreover, Araeen introduced a lattice structure into the oeuvre of Minimalism, a visual language that had come independently to Araeen at the same time as it was taking root in New York; although, in Araeen’s case, it was linked back to his background in structural engineering. Art critic Jean Fisher noted the key differences between Araeen’s articulation of Minimalism and that of the New Yorkers: “There are, however, important distinctions to be made between the Minimalist cube and Araeen’s Structures, which to my mind resides in the difference between an instrumental, abstract-logical regulation of the world and an organic one.”

This acknowledgement of the spectator as being a constitutive element in the work resulted in a further development of Araeen’s work. He opined: “My interest in participation emerged from the nature of my own work in 1968. While manipulating four small cubes to see how many different arrangements I could make out of them, I realized the potential in them of infinite movement and transformation.” Works such as Char Yar (1968) contain this potential of the spectator unmaking and re-making the work through them. However, Araeen himself was moving away from making objects for viewing in galleries towards more participatory and collaborative work, which became increasingly informed by his growing political activism. In 1969, Araeen began working on Chakras and its subsequent counterpart Triangles, which were his first participatory works outside the gallery space. On the 21st of February 1970, Araeen and members of the public threw sixteen two-foot diameter discs into London’s St. Katherine’s Dock. This quantity of sixteen, selected to reference a four-by-four configuration of a Minimalist structure, would immediately be undone by the action of being thrown into water.

Araeen went on to have solo shows at institutional spaces such as the Ikon Gallery (1987), the South London Gallery (1994) and the Serpentine Gallery (1996). In all, mainstream critical discussion of the early part of his career up until the early 1970s was less prevalent, until 2007 when the Tate London purchased and displayed his works from the late 1960s. In 2010, Aicon Gallery, London hosted the first major retrospective of Araeen’s work in over a decade, paving the way for a new string of exhibitions and critical attention. In 2014, Araeen’s work was a prominent feature in the exhibition Other Primary Structures at the Jewish Museum in New York, a long-overdue exploration of Minimalism outside its art-historical canonically Western context. In that same year, a major exhibition hosted by the Sharjah Art Foundation emphasized that the hiatus in critical and institutional responses to Araeen’s works had finally passed. A variety of reasons contributed to that hiatus. Araeen’s own activist-publisher activities setting up the periodicals Black Phoenix and Third Text, his involvement in the debates around ‘Black Art’ and his curating of exhibitions such as The Essential Black Art and The Other Story meant that the critical and curatorial focus on his artistry was irregular at best. More crucial however, was confusion amongst curators and art historians as to how to account for the appearance of Minimalist sculpture in Britain not directly influenced by the work of contemporaneous New York Minimalists. It has now been over fifty years since Araeen produced My First Sculpture, and with the belated institutional recognition his work is now receiving, it seems critcal to bring this large survey of his works to New York in order to reconsider the various and overlapping accounts and artistic journeys that can be described as Minimalism.

Photo courtesy of the organiser/s

For more information, please click here.