Artforum International
February 2002
Vol. 40, No. 6

Thomas Glassford: Torre De LosVientos/Galeria OMR. (Mexico City)

Jusidman, Yishai, Artforum International
Eliminating considerations of taste was a common goal during the golden age of Mininialism and Conceptual art. The idea was to disengage art from the frivolity of Pop aswell as from bourgeois hypocrisy. Ironically, in the past decade the minimal! conceptual look has enjoyed an ever-widening popularity and fostered a burgeoning market. And this look has become the standard of taste-smart, elegant, wholesome.

This turn of events becomes blatantly evident in the recent works of Laredo-born Thomas Glassford. Glassford has explored the functional potential of sculpture ever since he moved to Mexico City in the early ’90s. For years he used dried gourds to make baroque, sexually suggestive assemblages, incorporating them into ottomans, mirrors, chandeliers,and jewelry. Now the symbolic resonances that drove his earlier production have been superseded by concerns of optical efficacy. His handling of fluorescent tubes, aluminum molding, and Plexiglas might recall Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, and Laddie John Dill, but in Glassford’s refashioning, the specific object becomes deliberately decorative and unashamedly commodiflable.

The first of Glassford’s new star-shaped chandeliers was devised for the interior of a modem ziggurat built for the 1968 Olympics by Gonzalo Fonseca and recently rehabilitated for contemporary projects. The thirty fluorescent lights of Aster 500(Explosion 500; all works 2001 are held together concentrically by a spherical base. The oversize stellar contraption transforms the otherwise humble tubes into delicate axial luminaries, flooding the conical hail with an otherworldly, cool, and flattening light and distilling a sense of excessive luxury that belies their workaday use in offices and stores. A smaller fluorescent chandelier, Aster 250, adorned the turn-of-the-century foyer of GaleriaOMR, and to say that it looked wonderful is not a superfluous compliment; it’s to confirm that, from Glassford’s postminimal outlook, it served its purpose.

Another strategy for deriving beauty from the tasteless is played out in Glassford’s “Partituras” (Musical scores)- monochrome rectangular assemblages that for practical purposes function as paintings. Their surfaces are vertical patterns formed by strips of commercial aluminum moldings. These extended geometric topographies (peaks, valleys, canyons, steppes) accentuate the metal’s interaction with ambient light whether natural or artificial. Brightness and shade translate into rhythmic gradations of hue, saturation, and tone in such a way that these visual qualities seem detached from their metallic support. This is not just an exercise in the psychology of perception. Suddenly the contemptible bronze and silver finishes of anodized aluminum become supports for sophisticated optical phenomena, as also happens with similar pieces done in custom-made aristocratic burgundy and kitschy rose finish. Yet Glassford’s take on the minimalist look, flavored with Op and garnished with a bit of Pop, never depends on technical pyrotechnics or blase detachment. On the contrary, it is utterly elegant throughout.

Perhaps the ultimate trial for art that flirts with decoration (from Klimt to Matisse toPardo) is to clinch its virtues, as all good art eventually does, in spite of doing so in good taste. Glassford’s work runs a different risk: When our weakness for the minimal conceptual look runs its course, its subtler artistic merits might go unnoticed. But even then it would still be beautiful.