More Weight (April 26 – June 22, 2014) was Sam Moyer’s first solo exhibition at Rachel Uffner’s new Lower East Side location, her third with the gallery after receiving her MFA from Yale (2007). Works were divided between three rooms. The light-filled entry held a series of 8 large framed glass paintings. The back gallery contained a huge deck of quarried Carrara marble under a suspended wooden frame, covered in fabric and lit evenly from above. Upstairs, 11 big “pictures” hit viewers on all sides.
If the forms invite comparison to Richard Serra and Carl Andre, the works resist on principle. Moyer’s work, “minimal” in appearance, is not “process-based”; in other words, the viewer is not led in viewing it to recreate the circumstances of its creation. One does not confront the marble deck and ask, “how?”
For one, the viewer is invited to step all over it. If her goal was to invite the viewer to reconstitute the work, she’s a bad magician: inviting investigation into the mechanics of her tricks, not to bolster their credibility, but to expose them herself. Stepping up, I thought of the encounter with the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. An astronaut reaches out to grasp the excavated block, and a group gathers to have their photo taken before it. Seconds later, they clutch their helmets, as a piercing transmission rips the scene open. Perhaps it says more about etiquette in art-viewing than it does about the work itself, but I still felt uncomfortable at the possibility of tracking footprints onto the marble. I could hear my steps on the surface, warm from the glow of the light above: albeit comfortably, I was the one being investigated.
More, this betrays the sincerity of Moyer’s show. It was a friendly whole, whose parts seemed familiar if foreign. This is not the cold, brutal indifference of virtuosity. There was concern for materiality, as if the works were oblique examinations into the nature of things themselves. There was concern also for the interaction between material and light, a strategic choice for an inaugural show in a new gallery space.
The “pictures” upstairs compose themselves for the sake of viewing — compositions in a true sense (the OED defines it as “the nature of something’s ingredients.”). Mounted slabs of colorful stones, misshapen leftovers from kitchen renovations, are matched with printed representations of the material, carefully juxtaposed to sustain the pattern, but not preciously so. This trompe-l’oeil (“trick of the eye”) technique once helped budget-conscious Renaissance architects create marble walls from painted representations of the expensive, heavy material. Here, the heavy stones are on the walls, the viewer is asked to compare how well the tricks match their referents. The results are considered and beautiful.
To paraphrase what Virginia Woolf said about Jane Austen, the trouble is catching her in moments of greatness. But if there’s something literary at stake, we are told to look elsewhere. Moyer’s title comes from Giles Corey’s wry request at the end of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953). If Miller captured well the unraveling thread of sobriety and rationality that held Salem together, Corey’s line was equal parts confession and retort. Moyer might be subtler still. Her art is a “mirror on society” without explicit recourse to reflection, cutting through the howl to get to a quieter space.