The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2021

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OCT 2021 Issue

Raquel Rabinovich: Portals

Raquel Rabinovich, <em>When Silence Becomes Poetry 2: For Jorge Luis Borges</em>, 2018. Danube River mud, pencil, and glue on Essindia paper, 6 x 10 inches.
Raquel Rabinovich, When Silence Becomes Poetry 2: For Jorge Luis Borges, 2018. Danube River mud, pencil, and glue on Essindia paper, 6 x 10 inches.

On View
Hutchinson Modern & Contemporary
September 9 – November 5, 2021
New York

Raquel Rabinovich, now 92, is an artist working in Rhinebeck, New York; born in Buenos Aires, she moved to the United States in 1967. The artist is known for her monochromatic painting and glass sculptures, as well as her ecologically influenced works, likely the result of her proximity to the Hudson River. Rabinovich favors dense, dark surfaces and is clearly beholden to the minimal art she experienced when she first arrived in America. She is an artist who has been active throughout her stay in America but has not received the full recognition she deserves. This show makes it clear that Rabinovich is a notable painter and sculptor, someone taken with both Minimalism and surfaces made attractive by their contact with the natural world, water in particular. In a time when social practice in art stands out, her lyrically abstract bent of mind makes her both a bridge to an earlier time and a contemporary poet of materials.

Installation view: <em>Raquel Rabinovich: Portals</em>, Hutchinson Modern & Contemporary, 2021.
Installation view: Raquel Rabinovich: Portals, Hutchinson Modern & Contemporary, 2021.

In an interesting fashion, Rabinovich’s art not only reflects minimal art and the environment, but Asian religion as well. Buddhism has meant a lot to her, and while of course the simplicity of her surfaces, especially those of the 1960s and early 1970s, indicates her thorough mastery of reticent form, her overall output can be described as devotional—she is an avid practitioner of meditation. Poetry also is deeply meaningful to Rabinovich; recently she has been working on a series of drawings, “When Silence Becomes Poetry,” that celebrates such writers as Rilke, Neruda, and St. John of the Cross. In the work When Silence Becomes Poetry 6: For Edgar Allan Poe (2020), the artist has created a dark green/brown color covering the paper, which has two sets of six smaller squares of the same hue, that are laid out horizontally across the sheet. The nearly muddy variations in the surface remind us of another project, “River Library,” for which the artist submerges paper in rivers throughout the world and allows them to color the paper without adding imagery of anything we would recognize. Rabinovich is an artist of more than considerable talent in the realm of the nonobjective, and recently she has been collaborating with natural forces in addition to her own abilities to create remarkably original art. She is also a sculptor of fine accomplishment. Point/Counterpoint (1985), a major and massive work of bronze-tinted, tempered glass that stood for a year on the plaza of Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus, is an achievement in dialogue with Minimalism, although it was created a bit after the zenith of the movement. In Tabletop Glass Sculpture (Untitled 1) (1974), a tripartite, gray, plate-glass work, we sense both a devotion to simplicity and a hint of the monumentality that is found in Point/Counterpoint. We are starting to have enough distance in time from historical minimalism that we can look at it objectively: its radical purity and restraint has made it a touchstone for the way we think about contemporary art. Rabinovich brilliantly makes use of the movement’s directness, creating even in this small piece something large-spirited, acting as an ongoing memorial for creativity itself. It looks like Minimalism is a formal decision, but in Rabinovich’s hands we find that something spiritual is always occasioned.

Indeed, describing her working process, Rabinovich talks about “when the ground becomes groundless,” a phrase describing art, nature, and the spirituality seen in both. River Library 395 with Footnotes (2012–14), made from mud taken from the Mississippi River, has no legible text, but a crease down the middle of the paper surely indicates, with the title, that we are looking at a book. It consists of the groundless ground the artist speaks of. Books have long been vehicles of spiritual vision, and Rabinovich has turned their function into something abstracted but still closely linked to an actual object, something visual. As a result of the work’s elevated restraint, the image becomes universal, a demonstration of the book as both a bridge to and a container of belief. As a nonagenarian, Rabinovich has had the time to contemplate the point where culture and nature and belief meet, in abstract assertion. Because she is someone who has traveled extensively, and who is engaged in meditative practice, her abstraction becomes a wide-ranging view of a world that needs both to be seen and considered in the same moment.


Jonathan Goodman

Jonathan Goodman is an art writer and poet who focuses on modern and contemporary art.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2021

All Issues