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Patrick Nickell

American, b. 1960


Plywood, cardboard, and paint
80.5 x 80 x 2 in. (204.47 x 203.2 x 5.08 cm)
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation

A standout in Patrick Nickell’s 2003 retrospective exhibition, Untitled (2003) dramatizes the artist’s predilection for coaxing simultaneously goofy, clumsy, and elegant forms from simple fabrication processes and humble materials. This approach made Nickell a key figure among artists who practiced the “DIY” aesthetic in the Los Angeles art scene of the late 1980s and 1990s.

The work also opened up new areas of inquiry within Nickell’s practice. Made of paired, identical silhouettes cut from sheets of plywood, with a lumber core in between, edged with strips of corrugated cardboard, and painted with acrylic, it was the first such work Nickell had produced, and launched a series of related pieces the artist made during the subsequent five years.

Untitled (2003) both hangs on the wall and rests on the floor, thus occupying a status of objecthood somewhere between drawing, painting, sculpture, and portal. By insisting on a literal presence that overshadows representation or reference, and frankly declaring its materials and fabrication, Untitled (2003) is a descendant of the “specific objects” that Donald Judd argued existed between or outside conventional categories. Yet with its form essentially based on bold gestural line, the work also suggests the influences of mid-twentieth- century abstract painting and vitalist sculpture. Its stark graphic quality and resemblance to a cartoon thought bubble link it to both hard-edge painting and pop art, while its handling of materials is reminiscent of assemblage and the funk aesthetic. The work’s engagement of space and the viewer are indicative of Nickell’s prominent place among Los Angeles sculptors who began incorporating concerns of sculpture’s “expanded field” within the production of discrete objects.

Though Nickell’s material and formal vocabulary has shifted over the last several years, the core concerns of this piece are evident in his studio practice to the present.

Christopher Miles

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