Behind the matte black front doors facing Mission Street, Ratio 3’s gallery space is improbably white and airy. Every single time I visit, I become further convinced the gallery’s interior is larger than its exterior. Those high ceilings and expansive floor plan can’t possibly exist in the space between a Foot Locker and “L. Quan Check Cashing and Healing Arts Centre.”
The television show Doctor Who explains this effect as “dimensional transcendentalism.” Your mother might helpfully explain that black is always slimming. Optical illusions and time travel aside, the spaciousness of Ratio 3’s interior is only enhanced by the current exhibition: an installation of work by Miriam Böhm, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Sol LeWitt, Mitzi Pederson and Fred Sandback.
Vanishing Point is a group show of just seven pieces. Presenting giants of minimalist and conceptual art alongside gallery artists Böhm and Pederson, Ratio 3 offers up an impressive art historical lineage for their contemporary artists. Should Bohm and Pederson be positioned as inheritors of this legacy? Without heavy-handed didacticism, Vanishing Point makes a fairly persuasive argument for yes.
Works by LeWitt, Gonzalez-Torres and Sandback share more than just walls within major museum collections. Their work is prescriptive, their “dimensions variable,” their installations interpretations of often enigmatic rules. Just inside the gallery’s front doors, LeWitt’s subtle Wall Drawing #383, executed under the supervision of the Sol LeWitt Estate, extends floor to ceiling. Precise vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines combine to create the image of a cube, establishing an exhibition-wide trend of simple lines introducing dimensionality and depth.
LeWitt’s ideograph of a cube takes shape, albeit flatly, in Gonzalez-Torres’ “Untitled” (Portrait of Dad), a rectangle of individually wrapped candies on the main gallery floor. The arrangement of ghostly, shiny sweets might be the dimensions of a twin-sized bed, or the size of a burial plot. Of the three instruction-based works on view in Vanishing Point, just “Untitled” was determined by Ratio 3’s staff alone; LeWitt and Sandback’s estates dispatched emissaries to install their respective works.
If Böhm and Pederson’s pieces follow any rules, their logic is interior. Flanking Gonzalez-Torres’ candy spill are Pederson’s two rough-edged sculptures, made from thin arcs of plywood tightly bound with thread. Bowing out from the walls, these untitled works are the only pieces in the show to curve, or in any way depart from the straight lines, edges and precise corners that otherwise dominate Vanishing Point.
Sandback’s Untitled (Sculptural Study, Cornered Construction) is a line drawing in the air, rendered in taut strings of red and black yarn. In the afternoon, light from the gallery’s two high windows (another architectural facet completely invisible from Mission Street) spreads across the north wall and spills down to the concrete floor, casting linear shadows as it hits Sandback’s work. The sculpture, created in 1984 but first realized in 2013, ten years after the artist’s death, resembles the strings of a giant musical instrument. After freely picking up a Gonzalez-Torres candy (or two), it is unbearably tempting to pluck a string.
In the second gallery, the fuzzy quality of Sandback’s yarn appears like an apparition in Böhm’s black-and-white photographs, her hand-drawn parallelograms adding angles and planes to tableaux of what appear to be pieces of foam core on grey grounds. Over the years of seeing Böhm’s work in solo and group exhibitions at Ratio 3, the content of her photographs have grown more and more reductive as she continually flattens and compresses three-dimensional space. On one wall, the image of Detail I is expanded as a wallpaper print, possibly the flattest an image can get. But after LeWitt’s floor to ceiling wall drawing, I wanted Böhm to similarly envelop me with the scale of her work. Because of its edges, Detail I remains object-like.
Seeing Gonzalez-Torres, LeWitt and Sandback’s work in the context of a free gallery exhibition is a rare treat, but it’s also a presentation of the expected. Pederson and Böhm’s work doesn’t carry the same gravitas that come with having the words “estate of” attached to your name, but that’s a good thing. The past becomes a frame of reference for a future open to experimentation. Minimalism needs more purple pink paint. Conceptual art can be a work in progress.
Vanishing Point is on view at Ratio 3 in San Francisco through May 14, 2016. For more information visit ratio3.org.