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Ricci Albenda at the Rachofsky House

Rebecca Carter is an artist living in Dallas whose interests include psychoanalytic theory, feminism and work with indeterminate boundaries. Since moving from Chicago in 2005 to take a position at Southern Methodist University, she has regularly visited the Rachofsky House, both with and without students, collaborating with director of education, Thomas Feulmer to teach adult continuing education courses as well as to produce the “Night of Video,” an event showcasing video work form the collection. She writes about the house’s latest transformation.

Ricci Albenda...The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog., 2009...Exhibition invitation/announcement...Photo by Harrison Evans

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.: Dallas’ Rachofsky House has stored away its collection of Arte Povera, Minimalist and Post-Minimalist artworks for the summer, yielding the Richard Meier interior to a site-specific installation of text based works by the artist Ricci Albenda.

It is impossible to do with a word processor what Ricci Albenda has done with text in his paintings, though it is likely you might not notice. In Albenda’s universe, there are alphabets and wor(l)ds of color, letters, halos, periods, songs and song fragments, nonsensical maybe words and word play. Periods define end points on nearly every wor(d)k. A single exclamation point (eek!) squeaks on a red canvas.

The title of the exhibition is a key to entering Albenda’s universe. “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” is a pangram, a phrase that contains each of the letters of the alphabet at least once.  This particular pangram is used to test keyboards and display fonts. Its function and meaning are more about the alphabet and machines than animals and their varying speeds or inclinations. However, its usefulness as a tool relies on how its narrative composition functions with the subjective processes of memory and thought. Without conscious effort, it is easy to conjure up images of red foxes, sleeping dogs and vague references to secretaries. It would be very clear if a letter were missing, out of place, or otherwise malfunctioning. The title points to the way the alphabet relates to text-producing machines and how we in turn relate to these text-producing machines. This semiotic slippage is a nexus around which Albenda’s work radiates.

Ricci Albenda...The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog., 2009...Photo by Harrison Evans

The painting, my machine., looms over the second floor living space. Its placement, both physically within the house and conceptually within the exhibition, makes it a cornerstone. Albenda speaks about working on this piece for an extended period of time after he knew it was sold to a patron. During the time-intensive process of painting, (he doesn’t use tools of mechanical reproduction) he became acutely aware of subtle perceptual differences between his right and left eyes. My machine. in this sense becomes a reference to the body, that tool for perception and experiencing life. In the context of this house it recalls le Corbusier’s proclamation of the house as “a machine for living” and Sol le Witt’s conceptual art in which “the idea becomes the machine that makes the work.”

This discovery of perceptual/mechanical difference between his two eyes (“I”s?) led Albenda to further investigate the phenomenon in the people. paintings – canvases with the word “people” painted on them. He made the original, people. (primary painting), with both eyes open while standing in front of the canvas. The remaining five people. paintings are painted copies. Albenda painted four of them while viewing the original from various distances with one eye open. The fifth he reproduced not by looking at the original but rather by seeing with “the mind’s eye.” Upon close observation the resulting paintings reveal subtle variations, the curving of straight lines, or shifting of tilts. Albenda is a highly subjective text-producing machine. We all are.

Ricci Albenda...The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog., 2009...Photo by Harrison Evans

The people. paintings line the walls of the hallway when you first walk into the exhibition. During the previous installation of the permanent collection, there was a tightness and a slowness to this space. A Richard Serra lead piece leaned up against the east wall across from a Robert Irwin disk. The spatial organization mediated the speed of the visitors’ experience, something I experienced several times in various circumstances. An entire group of people would stand at one side of the narrowed corridor waiting to move single file through the passageway, with director of education, Thomas Feulmer carefully monitoring their every step. There was an element of anxiety involved with the process. One false step and the heavy lead could slip and damage the visitor, the work, or the house. Over the course of the installation, the Serra piece disappeared, leaving the space open to a more relaxed flow. The people. paintings similarly modulate a tension related to speed and space. On one level, it is easy to read them quickly: people. people. people., a multiplicity, crowds, perhaps, those same people whom I had watched march single file past the Serra. On the other hand this work is extremely slow; it is slow to reveal itself and slow in the intangible space/time of its production.

The exhibition seems sparse, but is richly associative. Words and phrases and canvas depths push and pull time and space within the house, between the works and in the mind/body of the viewer. There are constellations, things that build, connect and disconnect. Already a buoyant and light filled object on its dark granite plinth that extends outward in every direction, the Richard Meier house floats differently with this work. It becomes lighter and the color of light is more present. Blue sky and green grass appear as reflections on walls in a fluid interplay between exterior and interior, all the more visible against the subdued rainbow of black and white paintings in the central space.

Garden hangs on the south wall of the library. Latin names of plants from Albenda’s garden in Brooklyn extend across green canvasses of varying shades, sizes and dimensions. The letters of the names are in grayed green hues of his "COLOR-I-ME TRY"color-mapped alphabet, a system where each letter is assigned a color to contribute another level of visual rhythm to the text. Formally the canvasses move forward and backward in space, extending out towards the squared magnolia hedge visible through the library window. The modulating color of the text vibrates in relation to the light moving over the individual leaves. There is an interplay here between the cool presentation of Garden as Latin text on canvas, the intimacy of the private and personally tended thing it references and the meticulously and mechanically groomed landscape of the Rachofsky house.

Albenda’s The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. contains pieces by the artist from the past nineteen years. It verges on being more a highly considered retrospective than a truly site-specific installation, but under scrutiny the work and work/site relationship remain dynamic. It is an exciting development in the house’s evolving life and hopefully this is not the last time we see a single-artist project here of this ambition, scope and generosity.

 Ricci Albenda: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
The Rachofsky House
Dallas, Texas
Exhibition available for viewing by appointment through July 31.


Rebecca Carter is an artist, writer and teacher currently living in Dallas.


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0 Response

  1. festoonedbaboon

    Cannings does not cast from inflatables. Rather, he fabricates the work from scratch by welding sheetmetel together, then he inflates the metal.

  2. Ivan L

    yea that makes SO MUCH MORE SENSE. i was really confused about the casting situation. i got that from the texas biennial website.

  3. kdeaver

    Yes Ivan, they were solid steel casts that were then tediously hollowed out with a dremel to 1/8 inch thick and then finally inflated with air – that would be my first guess too??? I just lost my last thread of respect for your reviews. I guess you didn’t actually go look at W. Cannings’ work. Never make the mistake in thinking that “fashionable” contemporary art means the future of art. Formalism is just as important and meaningful as anything and is actually a fertile and unexplored area if you knew what you were talking about. I don’t know what it is but it must have something to do with Austin thinking it is somehow more hip and central to the Texas art scene (which is true in some respects) but just because we are surrounded by big pickup trucks in Texas doesnt mean we need to prove postmodern theory is valid, or rehash long accepted and well know ideas about art. I think the people that actually read this blog are smart enough that you don’t have to start off each sentence with ” I am aware ” and ” it is obvious” its sounds too self conscious and snide. Couldn’t you find some hideous paintings done in menstrual fluid that would have been more suited to your aesthetic? I think there are many mulitdimensional metaphors in Cannings’ work that you didn’t bother to look for. I never knew that formalism had such a bad rap. When I read through the subtext and see the implications of what you write it sometimes pisses me off to no end. Who the hell is Ivan Lozano to say what is and what is not important subject matter? You are talking about people’s views and art making, it’s the same thing as saying certain peoples views are not as important or as urgent as others.

  4. bruce

    Smart blonds are infinitely more interesting than the dumb ones. ( But only to those certain smart types.)
    I’ve also heard that menstrual fluid isn’t archival, dude.
    Ivan can well say what he thinks is important, deaver. Up to us to decide. Carry on, Ivan.
    I just wish I had cast those inflatables in 1976 when I wanted to!

  5. bruce

    And, certain people’ s views AREN’T as important as others. Art is indeed like Science and Math.
    And if you don’t see or get that, you aren’t worth the time it takes to type this response.

  6. bruce

    Me, I love formalism. Like my daily vitamin. Always there.
    Along with other stuff.
    Someone besides me should tell him it doesn’t matter how it was made or how long it took. The making of something is so much easier to spell out as to why the thing was made in the first place.
    Texas has an inferiority complex. Best to ignore it until you can talk them under a table. The best artists here cringe at me even saying that. They know it already.

  7. kdeaver

    I think that some things go without saying. Not so in the art world! To clarify to BRUCE:
    Who the hell do you think you are Bruce? Think about it, not just the tiny circle of artists you look at and know but look at the whole realm (past and present) of visual art. I don’t think its a matter of a single individuals good or bad art– smart or dumb blondes being given a value. Thats not what I am referring to, and why would you say that, or make this about that? Cannings’ work has already been deemed worthwhile by a group of qualified peers.
    I dont think formalism is something you can “love,” like or dislike like a movie star, a candy bar or an ice cream flavor. Thats like saying you like or dislike math or science! Its simply wether or not you understand those ideas. (maybe we should start requiring the GRE for the MFA and we would get rid of some of those who shouldnt be making art, thats sounds good to me huh Bruce?) I am talking about a realm of thought, an “ism” that is bigger than one single person being written about by Ivan as if it was inherently flawed or lacking in its capacity for “revelatory” value – if you read above that is some of what is implied about artists who explore formal aspects of visual language. So BRUCE, get off my ass and maybe take a look what Ivan wrote above! What I am saying is a rebuttal.
    BTW BRUCE, contrary to what you said above it is indeed true that HOW something is made is quite IMPORTANT! The how can answer the why so go back to school “dude” or smoke another doobie or whatever it is that you do. I cant even believe you said that. Of course the technical aspects of creation are easy to talk about, of course, of course, of course, of course. The PROCESS of inflating flat, steel cutouts into 3d form is vital to Cannings’ concept. Ivan didn’t even figure out how they were made, which was part of the point. So I have very good reason to question his assessment. There are some rich metaphors that are overlooked and not even considered in Ivan’s lame, self conscious review and I have the right to point it out BRUCE!
    I dont think he looked at the work or gave it much thought simply because it didn’t hit him in his myopic face. THis isnt the first time that I have read his criticism.To me that is bullshit criticism!!!!!! Its about Ivan’s hyper sensitivity to what is edgy and fashionable in art that I m annoyed with. I havent heard him offer an original insight recently that hasnt been the same old cliched shit that all mediocre critics blowhorn. I have the right to speak my opinion about it and you have the right to make yourself heard as well.

    Everyone give Bruce a hand for cheering on Ivan he really took a risk with putting someone like me down.
    PS it doesnt need to be “archival” to be art “dude”, i can think of some really great works that are not going to last. Enjoy your tea @#%%$*

  8. Ivan L

    kdeaver: are you on meth or something? Chill out. It’s a blog post, not an official decree. I think you take my opinion way more seriously than even I do. I really really loved Canning’s work!

    A direct quote from the Texas Biennial page on Cannings:
    “Cannings creates hard-shell steel and aluminum sculptures by casting plastic and rubber inflatable objects.”
    My knowledge of how to work with metal is very limited, so I believed what I read in the Biennial website. I racked my brain for DAYS trying to figure out just how you would cast these damn things. I was more than pleased to be corrected by festoonedbaboon. And I agree with you completely about how “fashionable” art is not “the future of art.” That was what the link to Davenport’s blog post on provincialism was all about. I also am a gigantic believer in the power of Minimalism, and if you would have googled me instead of just asking to yourself who the fuck I am, you probably would have seen that I am very influenced by it myself, take it seriously, and am aware that there are many unexplored possibilities in it. I also agree that process and materiality are VERY important.

    So while you were busy reading in between the lines, you missed the points I was making: that the material quality, the way the shapes are made, the way in which they work in space, and how they relate to each other as manifested forms is absolutely vital and beautiful.

    What I don’t agree with is your hostile tone, not because I’m fragile but because it seems that it comes from weird insecurities you might have. It’s poor form, and form is important, right?
    Don’t take it personally when I don’t write what you want to hear. There’s a reason comments are allowed in this blog, because we expect people to offer up their own point of view, especially if it’s different from what I write. However, to quote Tyra: “keep it cute or put it on mute.”

  9. kdeaver

    Yeah, there are sooooo many blogs like this for Texas art????

    Doesn’t the loudest voice= majority opinion these days? Unfortunately, when it comes to human nature, I think the guy with the loudest, most repetitive voice (no other factors involved ) will sway a larger group of individuals. I’ll admit my hostility has ebbed and flowed and slowly been building up for a couple of years. I’m not gonna apologize for feeling what I think is legitimate. I think it may have been bad form to get personal, but you pissed me off. I wish more people would call you on it because it does matter and it is serious.

  10. Ivan L

    Like you, I’m not going to apologize for feeling what I think is legitimate. If you don’t like what I write, there’s a really easy remedy to that…

    Yeah, exactly, there aren’t that many blogs like this for Texas art. Start your own if you really think it does matter and it is serious. You can have a voice too. If you type in CAPSLOX it looks louder. You can copy paste what you write and seem repetitive. I’ll even link to you whenever we end up writing about the same thing. And yes, I also wish more people would offer differing opinions, but you can’t force them.

  11. titus_obrien

    This is so awesome to read and not be directly involved.
    Well, said Ivan – we now know who your muse is; Tyra! Deaver, you have issues, dood. Chillax.
    That said, I think Canning is possibly the worst artist in the universe.
    His last Dallas show at Pan-American was absolutley shameful. He made big metal letters using his nifty trick to spell “Infl-8” on the wall. Holy fucking christ. How could he even show his face after that?
    He made two sex dolls, male and female – but didn’t have the guts to have them doing it, like the Chapman brothers did three years earlier, having made the exact same thing only better.
    He had that show in Houston with a bunch of daisies and crap.
    Formalism? His work has absolutley nothing to do with formalism. He is a one trick pony, apparently without a single decent idea about what to do with it (but plenty of bad ones), and visually they are as cloying and sick-inducing as a state fair-winning cotton candy wrapped deep fried candy bar dipped in corn syrup. Embarrassing for Texas.

  12. kdeaver

    This might not have been the best entry to blow up on Ivan about but I had my reasons. I am not the only one to think that some of this is getting out of touch.

    I think Ivan was specifically talking about the work at okay mountain, I’m sure that we could probably find some really bad work for a lot of good artists out there maybe even you.

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