A Spinning Cube: Order, Disorder, and the Universe

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Alois Kronschlaeger: Time, Space, Color, Roldan Moderno, Buenos Aires, 2018. Photo courtesy Nacho Iasparra.

I

Robert Smithson’s brief press release for a Dwan Gallery exhibition of Sol LeWitt’s white, open-work cubic structures ends with the following observation: Extreme order brings extreme disorder. The ratio between the order and the disorder is contingent. Every step around [LeWitt’s] work brings unexpected intersections of infinity.[i] That an artist so preoccupied with moments where the supposed clarity of vision becomes muddled and opaque finds within LeWitt’s work an entropic register is no surprise. What Smithson’s tight-lipped description dramatizes is the sensation of viewing perfectly logical forms like the grid, the cube, and the square, within the realm of lived experience. No longer conceptual constructs that organize the world from the mind outward in a mapping function, these abstract forms now share space with an embodied and mobile spectator who observes them from the outside; this is the source of the “contingent” nature of LeWitt’s structures. From certain perspectives, the logic guiding the structures is clear; but if the spectator changes their vantage point, the stable structures shatter into incoherence.[ii]

The work of Alois Kronschlaeger revisits this intersection between conceptual structure and material form, and the often beguiling visual results of their synthesis. A recent exhibition entitled Polychromatic Contemplations, held in the summer of 2018 at the Figge Museum, displayed three rows of evenly dispersed towers composed of colored lattices and yarnwork sitting atop brickwork foundations. The grid—the basic meeting of horizontal and vertical axes—reverberated throughout the gallery, its echoes observable in the repeated intersections of painted rods; the mesh matrices that form the ground for Kronschlaeger’s yarnwork designs; the varying patterns of bricks; the intersections of vertical towers with the horizontal floor; and in the regular distribution of the sculptures. All of these distinct realizations of the grid coalesced to form a “shifting landscape”—to borrow the title of another of Kronschlaeger’s site-specific installations—a kaleidoscopic environment where the ideal grid is overridden and complicated by material conditions. Indeed, this recent installation formed a dialogue with LeWitt, whose Tower Maquette 91.0002 stands in the entrance plaza to the Figge, a vertical and austere reference to the grain silos that mark the horizontal Midwestern landscape.

Kronschlaeger’s “Spinning Cube” series is another iteration of the artist’s examination of the grid form and its complexities and mutability. Each Cube is constructed of 300 faceted rods, each with four faces. Each face of each rod is painted with one of six colors. Of the 1,200 total surfaces, therefore, each color appears 200 times. The entirety of the Cube is then placed on one of its corners, a simple change in orientation that undermines the stability of the square and its four right angles, and then set in rotation through the use of a motor. “To have [the Cube] spin, it’s easier for the observer to see the multitude of colors on each side,” Kronschlaeger reflects. “Seeing it on its diagonal axis enhances its viewing aspect.”[iii] To impart movement to a square is a radical gesture. It was a conundrum tackled by Mondrian in his famous “Lozenge” paintings,[iv] and the color theorist and educator Josef Albers praised the “honesty” of the square over the dishonesty of the circle, precisely due to the fact that it does not move: “I have known for a long time that a circle always fools me by not telling me whether it’s standing still or not. And if a circle circulates you don’t see it. . . . So the square is much more honest and tells me that it is sitting on one line of the four, usually a horizontal one, as a basis.”[v] Likewise, LeWitt notes the square’s inertness: “Compared to any other three-dimensional form, the cube lacks any aggressive force, implies no motion, and is least emotive.”[vi] If one overarching theme of Kronschlaeger’s work is the optical play and distortion engendered by the experience of conceptual forms in lived space, then the Spinning Cubes exacerbate these illogical conditions by asking the Cube to do what it is uniquely unqualified to do—spin.

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Alois Kronschlaeger: Time, Space, Color, Roldan Moderno, Buenos Aires, 2018. Photo courtesy Nacho Iasparra.

II

Understanding Kronschlaeger’s Spinning Cube as solely in dialogue with North American minimal and conceptual precedents is, however, to view only one half of the equation. Kronschlaeger’s work in general—and his Spinning Cubes in particular—combines this legacy with a nearly contemporary lineage, which is revealed through reference to another artist who made the Cube spin. This is the Venezuelan Jesús Rafael Soto, and the work of art referenced is his 1952 painting Rotation, in which horizontal rows of squares tumble across the pictorial surface in increasingly abstracted forms. The square and cube would become a recurring feature in Soto’s mature work, as he gradually moved it into the space of lived experience in order to, in his estimation, move beyond Mondrian. Whether as a volume evoked by hanging rods, or as planar surface projected before a patterned background, the square is often under pressure in his work. Its contours flicker and become unstable. It oscillates and undulates when it should not. But the resulting optical distortions of Soto’s work, rather than denoting the futility of any assumption of visual clarity (Smithson, LeWitt),[vii] are demonstrations of the flux and movement of the universe, its constant change. The same can be said of the kinetic experiments of his compatriots Alejandro Otero and Carlos Cruz-Diez, as well as the Argentinians Martha Boto and Gregorio Vardanega. While these artists deployed kinetics to myriad ends, they intersect in their interest in revealing the minutiae of lived experience, whether this is the instability of color, the physiological act of perception, or the disclosure of imperceptible forces. Their work deploys optical ambiguity and movement to disclose a world of constant change.

When seen from this perspective, Kronschlaeger’s attention to color and the visual rhythm that results from the Cube’s movement become platforms for examining the process of perception and the viewer’s own location in time and space. As the Cube spins, a ceaseless battle unfolds between the dual elements of form (the grid) and color as each vies for the viewer’s attention. At times, the lattice aligns in such a manner that it appears as a flat, two-dimensional grid, before turning again to disassemble into dense clusters of rods. Unexpected patterns arise and flutter across the surface of the sculpture. Cutting perspectives make their way through the visual noise, only to fall away again in a wash of moirés. The Cube is of an uncertain density as it expands and contracts between two and three-dimensions, its rotation and spatial amorphousness reminiscent of Boto’s revolving cylinders and discs, their distortions catching in background mirrors or other reflective surfaces. If Boto finds inspiration in, as she has said, “the laws of harmony and equilibrium which govern the cosmos,”[viii] then the same can be said of Kronschlaeger. Early works, most notably Gnomon Projections and 15 Degrees Longitude East, were outdoor interventions that made cosmic phenomenon visible at a human scale, demonstrations of an interest that extends to his Spinning Cubes with their planetary rotations, closed systems of rhythms and cycles.

Equally part of this system, in addition to the patterns that surge through the sculpture, is the flickering mist of color that appears to settle around the Cube as it continues its interminable spin. If there is something potentially cosmic in the rotation of the Cube, then the chromatic effects that it generates are undeniably particular. What we see of the colors is a result of a specific optical blend that occurs at the very moment of perception. The applied color mixes as the structure rotates, appearing to throw color into the surrounding space, taking a cue from Carlos Cruz-Diez’s long-running “Physichromie,” series. A portmanteau of “physical” and “color,” the Physichromies famously utilize strips of colored plastic, cardboard, or wood, to create regular, fin-like protrusions on the surface of a rhythmically colored background. These raised strips of material—what the artist describes as “chromatic event modules”—are one possible solution mounted to free color, long subservient to shape and form, from its material constraints. As the artist states, “The solution I found to the eternal binomial form-color was to divide the form, transforming the colored plane into a succession of color parallels placed vertically, which I called chromatic event modules. This structure allowed me to prove that color is constantly in the making, that it happens all the time.”[ix] A Physichromie by Cruz-Diez might appear dark green from one angle, and bright red from another. Likewise, the color that bathes a Spinning Cube is in constant, luminous mutation.

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Alois Kronschlaeger: Time, Space, Color, Roldan Moderno, Buenos Aires, 2018. Photo courtesy Nacho Iasparra.

III

As installed in Roldan Moderno, Kronschlaeger’s Spinning Cubes may either be seen in isolation or as part of a group of four Cubes. They are displayed in a line with the first and third Cubes rotating in one direction, the second and fourth in the opposite. When viewing the sculptures down the line, Smithson’s mantra resurfaces: Extreme order brings extreme disorder. The systematically applied color and the regular distribution of rods, perfectly logical in their assembly, dissolve in washes of effervescent patterns and chromatic undulations before, breaking through the chaos, brief glimpses of order where the Cubes fall into unexpected alignment come into view. The Cubes telescope back and forth between chaos and order, all the while presenting spectators with a mirror with which to reflect on the perception of space, time, and color.

When looking at a Cube as it spins, it is possible to see every possible permutation of pattern and color as the structure pulses, dissolves, resumes its structural integrity, and falls away again. In this sense it is a closed system where all possibilities are available to vision through the Cube’s axial rotation. In this sense, the Cube approaches Jorge Luis Borges’s conception of the Universe as described in his short text “The Library of Babel.” Here, the Library is a metaphor for the Universe, insofar as it contains every text that has ever been written and will ever be written. Every possible combination of letters is found there. It is in a state of complete chaos. How can one make order from this entropic condition? One way is to conceive of the Library—the Universe—as a circle. If an eternal traveler would cross [the Library] in any direction, after centuries he would see the same volumes repeated in the same disorder (which, thus repeated, would be an order: the Order) My solitude is gladdened by this elegant hope.[x] Kronschlaeger’s Spinning Cubes become Borgesian glimpses onto a Universe of chaos that resolve when the patterns are perceived and repeated. The circular movement of the Cube contains both order and disorder—the disorder becomes the order.

—Nathan Morrow Jones

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Alois Kronschlaeger: Time, Space, Color, Roldan Moderno, Buenos Aires, 2018. Photo courtesy Nacho Iasparra.

[i] Reproduced in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, ed. Jack Flam (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1996), 335.

[ii] James Meyer, Minimalism: Art and Polemics in the Sixties (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), 202. In discussing one of LeWitt’s exhibition at Dwan Gallery, New York, Meyer quotes reviews by Lucy Lippard and Mel Bochner that underscore the incoherence of these sculptures. Smithson, Meyer observes in footnote 184, wrote his press release for LeWitt’s next exhibition at the Dwan Gallery’s Los Angeles location.

[iii] Alois Kronschlaeger, “In the Studio with Alois Kronschlaeger,” Blouin Artinfo, September 2, 2013, video. Online, accessed September 16, 2018.

[iv] See Piet Mondrian, “Statement,” ca. 1943, reproduced in Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics, ed. Herschel B. Chipp (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1968), 363. Mondrian writes: “Doesburg, in his late work, tried to destroy static expression by means of a diagonal arrangement of the lines of his compositions. But through such an emphasis the feeling of physical equilibrium which is necessary for the enjoyment of a work of art is lost. The relationship with architecture and its vertical and horizontal dominants is broken. If a square picture, however, is hung diagonally, as I have frequently planned my pictures to be hung, this effect does not result. Only the borders of the canvas are on 45° angles, not the picture. The advantage of such a procedure is that longer horizontal and vertical lines may be employed in the composition.” Mondrian, in other words, turned the canvas to impart a sense of movement to his compositions without sacrificing the harmony engendered by the intersections of vertical and horizontal lines in his compositions.

[v] Josef Albers, interview by Sevim Fesci for the Archives of American Art, June 22–July 5, 1968. Online, accessed September 16, 2018.

[vi] Sol LeWitt, “The Cube,” 1966, quoted in Meyer, Minimalism: Art and Polemics in the Sixties, 204.

[vii] Meyer, Minimalism: Art and Polemics in the Sixties, 205. Here, Meyer argues that in the sixties there were multiple concurrent “models of vision.” One of these was “the problematized vision of LeWitt, Bochner, Smithson, and Hesse, a vision that failed to grasp its object.”

[viii] Boto as quoted in a 2004 film by Claude Imbert, and reproduced in Arnauld Pierre, “Contact: The Cyber-Cosmos of Boto and Vardanega,” in Contact: Le cyber-cosmos de Boto et Vardanega, exh. cat. (Houston, TX: Sicardi Gallery, 2006), np.

[ix] Carlos Cruz-Diez, “Reflections on Color,” reproduced in Geometric Abstraction: Latin American Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), 162–165.

[x] See Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel,” in Labyrinths: Selected Stories & Other Writings, eds. Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby (New York, NY: New Directions Books, 2007), 58.

A Spinning Cube: Order, Disorder, and the Universe

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