I was knocked out by Rose McCormick’s Grand Ronde now on view at New American Art Union. Approaching the gallery’s wide open front, we first saw only white walls, a space apparently empty. And then we nearly stepped in it. We caught ourselves just at the edge of what first looked like a lacquered rectangle took up the entire gallery floor, stopping just two feet from the walls. Look again. It’s water.
McCormick has created a magnificent, shallow, glasslike pool of water in NAAU. Tucked into the front corner of the space near the doorway is a folded stack of wool blankets—haggard and patched—topped by a worn photo album. In the opposite rear corner, initially hidden from view by a quirk of the space (it is not a clean rectangle, but has recess in back at one side leading to other doors) there are vintage suitcases and a set of aluminum camping pans.
As Robert Irwin has intended in his similarly spare installations, one notices the shape of the space, the light, one’s relation to the scale of the space. I notice for the first time that the walls of the gallery are floated six inches above the floor. (And was that light fixture running the length of the gallery always there?)
A magic near-secret of Grand Ronde is one that perhaps you’ll only see on a sunny day at 2 PM. There is a small, old fan pointing toward a wall in the recess. It moves the air just enough to create ripples in the water that I couldn’t see on the surface of the water, but I could see when I stood very close to the back wall and saw the faintest reflection. It’s this kind of invitation to look closer and closer still that sticks with you for days. It’s the same kind of thing on a minor scale that Irwin experienced after exiting a sensory deprivation chamber.
Divine subtlety aside, what makes this more than an homage to work by Irwin and other minimalists is that photo album. I’m the last one to go looking for narrative in a piece, but introduce a photo album, even if its closed (elsewhere I explain why I didn’t flip through the album), and narrative is there. Because albums tell stories; they are memory holders and in context here with blanket and suitcase are record of journey. Like the fan tickling the water, what the album items represent ruffles the present around the edges. Grand Ronde asks us to take a minute to notice.
I will be curious to see how a project like this alters McCormick’s work in future. In past she’s done color-saturated, figurative painting from which this is a major departure.
Ambitious installations charge the imagination of artist and viewer alike. If this is a great step forward for McCormick, it’s also a kick in the pants/invitation to other artists/curators to occasionally think Big. Thanks Ruth Ann Brown and New American Art Union for the funds and fortitude to support work of this nature.