More About Less

Minimalism gets a maximum boost in thought-provoking solos at Rule and ILK.

Over the last few years, Rule Modern and Contemporary Gallery has increasingly specialized in abstract painting, with contemporary takes on minimalism often given center stage.

"I've come to it by living in this environment," says director Robin Rule, referring both to the austerity of much of the Western landscape and to the many hard-edged abstractionists who have been working in Colorado for decades, a number of whom are represented by her gallery.

As a mark of her fervor for minimalism, Rule ventured a couple of weeks ago to the mecca of the movement, Marfa, a nearly abandoned West Texas town where the master of minimalism, the late Donald Judd, established a permanent home for his artistic legacy.

"Kuan SOO-2," by Jae H. Hahn, oil on wood.
"Kuan SOO-2," by Jae H. Hahn, oil on wood.


Through November 4

Several Terms, Tacit
Through October 22
ILK on Santa Fe, 554 Santa Fe Drive

Rule Modern and Contemporary Gallery, 111 Broadway

Judd, who died in 1994, was given an abandoned Army base, Fort Russell, by the Dia Art Foundation. Although Judd later had a falling-out with Dia, he held on to the base and began to buy many of the downtown buildings in nearby Marfa, which he used to display his monumental work, as well as the work of his friends, including Carl Andre (an artist who has exhibited at Rule). Since Judd's death, the Chinati Foundation has continued his work.

Rule went to Marfa for the Chinati annual open house, which attracts a who's who of the contemporary art world. This year, a piece called "Untitled (Marfa project)," by Dan Flavin, a friend and peer of Judd's, was unveiled. It had been designed in 1996, the year Flavin died, but the unbelievably enormous multi-part piece, which includes Flavin's signature fluorescent lights in various colors, was installed only recently in six empty U-shaped former Army barracks. It has been internationally heralded as Flavin's magnum opus.

This was the second trip Rule made to Marfa -- she went as a tourist last year -- but she had a purpose this time: to establish the name of Mary Obering among the top ranks of the original minimalists. Obering, a neo-minimalist painter who once lived in Denver and once lived with Judd, was the subject of a solo show that Rule presented at the Marfa Hotel to coincide with the Chinati open house. "Last year I felt that Mary was needed. She ought to be included here among the likes of Judd and Flavin," Rule says. Several examples of Obering's work can be seen right now in the back room of Rule Gallery. Obering has been the subject of two solos at Rule in the past few years. The exhibit in Rule's main gallery spotlights another neo-minimalist: Jae H. Hahn shows off several recent paintings by this Los Angeles artist.

Hahn was born and raised in Korea, where she attended the College of Fine Arts at Seoul National University. She came to the United States to study at the University of California at Los Angeles, and later at California State University at Long Beach, where she earned her MFA.

Despite her years in California, Hahn's heritage is still in the forefront of her stylistic influences. The paintings included in the Hahn show have a decidedly Oriental flavor, in terms of both her palette and her lacquer technique, a fairly traditional one that is commonly seen in Asia.

To create the basic compositions, Hahn first applies oil paint, then adds layer after layer of lacquer. The first layers are tinted with the oil paints, but in the top layers, less and less pigment is used until the lacquer being used is clear. This creates a remarkably glossy surface that has a tremendous visual depth, as the viewer is able to look through the layers to the paints suspended within them. It has the character of a three-dimensional mottling.

"Jae's paintings are infinitely intriguing," says Rule. "She's interested in lush surfaces and rigorous geometry the way Mary [Obering] is."

Hahn has written that the empty spaces in her work mark the beginning of all visual art and are comparable to silence, which she regards as the starting point for music. "The white, empty wall always has fascinated me with its unlimited possibilities," she wrote last year in an exhibition catalogue. While all of the paintings in this show are new, they are all part of Hahn's "Kuan" series, which she began in 1995. "Kuan," she has said, is a Korean word meaning "silent observation."

The show begins with "Kuan SOO-2," a striking two-panel piece made of oil, gold and lacquer on wood. The two zigzag panels that mirror each other in shape come together to make a single symmetrical composition resembling a gateway. Because Hahn painted the sides of the panels a dark color, the shape of the zigzag is stressed; as a result, the white wall behind it almost becomes part of the piece. The vertical parts have been painted with vertical stripes, and the horizontal parts are marked by broad light-colored diagonal bars. These bars direct the viewer's eyes down toward the empty wall that makes up the bottom center.

The exhibit really gets under way in Rule's main room, which has a temple-like atmosphere of serenity. A number of variations are seen here within Hahn's simple and seemingly non-limiting compositional vocabulary: stripes. On the west wall is "Kuan S99-10," a companion piece to "Kuan SOO-2." But instead of a zigzag, Hahn makes a pair of simple angles accented with horizontal and vertical stripes. The stripes are joined at the diagonal that follows an imaginary miter. Behind the viewer is a far different work, "The Spicy Red Stripes," made up of a pair of narrow horizontal panels each covered in thick red stripes alternating with stripes in mottled red on gold.

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