At Columbia, Rita McBride Polishes the Industrial to a Shine

THE DAILY PIC: She turns ducting and garage ramps into objets de vertu.

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THE DAILY PIC (#1480): The group show called “Open This End: Contemporary Art from the Collection of Blake Byrne” opened last week at the Wallach art gallery at Columbia University in New York. Curator Joseph Wolin has packed it full of elegant, compelling pieces, almost all by artists I’ve been a fan of for a while – Mike Kelley, Cindy Sherman, Tony Smith and lots of others. I’ve rarely seen a show whose taste coincides so closely with mine. But my favorite moment in “Open This End” came from one of the few artists in it that I’ve barely known until now: Rita McBride, whose Servants and Slaves is the subject of today’s Pic. It’s hard to tell from my image, but the shiny nickel-and-silver ducting in McBride’s piece is something like one-sixth scale, compared to the ducting you’d find in a real building. Another lovely work by her at Columbia is a simplified maquette for the ramps in a parking garage, presented at about 1/100th scale, I’d guess, and made of gorgeously articulated bronze.

There’s something wonderful about considering such unloved architectural elements using media and techniques that recall jewelry and tabletop objets de vertu. Other artists – Donald Judd, Charlotte Posenenske – have presented ducting and its analogues at normal scale, recognizing its inherent artistic interest. But McBride’s alterations in size and materials give her works a very different effect. Their almost religious quality makes me think of them as icons from some strange cargo cult that came across our worst industrial architecture and saw it as a gift from the gods.

McBride has a pretty big reputation in Europe. Among other things, she’s the director of the famous Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf. But her almost total neglect, until now, by museums in New York is something that needs to change. (Photo by Orcutt & Van Der Putten, courtesy Alexander and Bonin, NY)

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