Perhaps the most iconic photographs ever taken of an artist at work (one could almost say “money shots”) are the 1949 images of Jackson Pollock in Life magazine, viewed through a pane of glass that separates his thread of dripping paint from the upturned camera. Alex Hubbard has made a career of documenting this type of masculine performative gesture, videotaping the (often from above, inverting the Pollock image) pushing, spreading, building, arranging, throwing, tearing, cutting and crumpling of a variety of eye-catching objects, by himself and with occasional assistance, in a sort of moving abstraction that borrows both from the ephemeral abstract film tradition of Stan Brakhage and Paul Sharits, and the more tactile photographic compositions of Man Ray and Aleksandr Rodchenko, as well as the still and moving images of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. (Both the topic of abstract photography and Hubbard’s work received separate essays in Artforum this month, in time for Hubbard’s debut in the Whitney Biennial—such is the fickle synergy of the zeitgeist.)
The overhead view is favored in “Heads in the Dark,” now on display at Shane Campbell Gallery. “Heads” features a chaotic processional of identical postcards and some small items (seashells, candle, ashtray), while “The Paranoid Phase of Nautical Twilight, I-III,” also at Shane Campbell, consists of three similar successive vignettes that begin with a dark screen, flecked with hints of light and texture. This drywall plane in “Nautical Twilight” then literally gives way to a glowing line tracing a geometric shape, sort of an Ellsworth Kelly photogram, courtesy of a power saw gnawing its way through the scrim that had been blocking the view of Hubbard’s well-lit studio, resulting at the end in an enlightening breakthrough, the sublime transcendence of the Ab-Ex auteur. Hubbard is also showing four pairs of conjoined canvases on which oil, acrylic, resin and fiberglass have been liberally trickled, sprinkled and poured—they don’t stand up to the inventiveness of the videos, or even of some earlier still pieces, but their bluntness makes them undeniable.
In the end, Hubbard’s energetic appropriation and updating of American modernism feels more reverent than ironic, which is probably the main thing that separates them from the last thirty years of postmodern abstraction. Intelligent formal and conceptual decisions are now needed to support heroic physical gestures, and Hubbard is exactly the artist to pull off both. (Bert Stabler)
Through April 17 at Shane Campbell Gallery, 1431 W. Chicago Ave.