For some curious reason, Kate Shepherd’s painting is often seen in “minimalist” terms. The press release for her most recent show at Galerie LeLong, for example, defines her latest pictures as “minimalist designs.” But setting aside the fact that minimalism by definition excludes painting – Donald Judd wrote in 1964 that “half or more of the best new work” of his time was “neither painting nor sculpture” – the press release for Shepherd’s show does still get half of it right: these are, in fact, designs, which is to say that they are more about the administration of painting than painting itself. Ultimately, they are far from being “specific objects.”
The configurations for the pictures exhibited, composed of sprawling white lines on reflective monochrome enamel backgrounds, were first developed on a computer with the aid of an architectural design program. This makes it all the more peculiar that the show is conceived around “a distant sense of unease, ruin, and disarray.” This, again, is only half true. While the works are doubtless calculated in their orderliness – their meticulously rigid organization inscribed in every imperceptible brush stroke – they also contain a type of disorder that nevertheless lends them no additional complexity.
Violet Grey African Rabbit Skin is exemplary in this manner. Composed of a two wood panels placed one next to the other and painted in a reflective blue, the picture plane reveals a vaguely architectural vertical skeleton outlined in thin white lines. But because the top panel of the work is so much smaller and therefore more awkwardly sized than the lower section of the painting, it feels haphazard. Because it is added in order to allow for an extension of the line that marks the surface of the panel(s), it reads as an idea that could not find its realization in form. It reads, instead, as a calculated decision devoid of any particular aesthetic motivation. It is painting become bureaucratic.
Shepherd’s sculptures, however, are somewhat more intriguing yet by no means innovative. Constructed of coat hanger wires, they hang from the ceiling and act directly in an open space that relies on no wall. Their intriguingly casual nature leads them definitively away from design, but their success is largely due to their proximity to Shepherd’s design pictures. The sculptures project far too distantly into the history of 20th century sculpture without pushing it into any new territory. It is a type of relaxed Cubism that only works within the context of a larger failure.
(Cover image: Kate Shepherd. “And Debris” Installation view. Image © Galerie LeLong.)