"Much discussion about the history of 20th-century sculpture has focused on its emergence from under the shadow of painting. With Minimalism's return to the object, the conversation with painting suddenly seemed irrelevant. Yet, as with so much in art, conversations never truly end, they evolve and spiral in new directions.
The work of Brooklyn artist Rachel Beach appears, at first glance, to be a manner of painting in three-dimensional space. But her recent exhibition, "Mid-Sentence," which I first saw in Halifax at the Saint Mary's University Art Gallery, offered a conversation about paintings as objects, and the history it cited is, of necessity, more complex than the translation of Modernist ideas from two to three dimensions, a strategy that marked so much sculpture from the first half of the 20th century.
Beach thinks simultaneously in painterly and sculptural terms, which became clear in “Mid-Sentence.” The works were arranged together on plinths of identical area (though of varying heights), usually in groups of two or more, evenly spaced in groups of two or more, evenly spaced in a familiar modernist grid. Movement was integral to the experience of the works; as viewers navigated the grid, their changes of position created multiple, shifting viewpoints that denied stability. Beach’s intent is to unsettle expectations of these objects as art (are they painting or sculpture?) and as objects in the world (how do they stand? what are they made of?). Each one is painted with varying approaches to mark-making that, as Beach says, provide “something perceptually strange that unbalances the forms.” The exhibition layout recalled the setup of Brancusi’s studio at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and, in fact, Beach’s forms have much in common with Brancusi’s bases. The surface treatment, however, with its mix of stenciling, rolling, brushing, stippling, spattering, and other painting techniques reminded me of Richard Serra’s 1968-69 verb list of processes that can be applied to materials (to roll, to crease, to fold). The meticulousness behind Beach’s surfaces was evidenced by a series of wall works, made from layering various studies and tests she does on paper before painting the sculptures. These collages (or are very they low-relief sculpture?) show one more aspect of Beach’s thoughtful and thorough engagement with her side of the argument.
Originally trained as a painter, but arriving at sculpture, Beach has much to say about the continuing evolution of object-making, and about these two venerable media. In “Mid-Sentence,” she melds painting and sculpture, proving, should such a proof still be needed, Thomas McEvilley’s contention about sculpture— the medium really can contain “more or less anything in the universe,” even its age-old debating partner."
—Ray Cronin, "Sculpture Magazine", (Nov. 2017).