Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy - White Wall

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Image of White Wall

Mel Kendrick , b. Jul 28, 1949

White Wall

16 x 5 x 6 1/2 in. (41 x 13 x 17 cm)

Medium and Support: Oiled mahogany, gesso, and graphite on metal base
Credit Line: Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, gift of the artist (PA 1967), Addison Art Drive
Accession Number: 1991.17


When he began his searching inquiry into the meaning and nature of sculpture, Mel Kendrick found his aesthetic yardsticks in Minimal and Conceptual art of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Kendrick was very much interested in certain influential artists in those movements, including Carl Andre, Robert Morris, Tony Smith, and Robert Smithson. He got from them a sense of the importance of considering one’s own creative activity within a self-imposed operational framework of problem-solving and making things that make still other things happen. It was in the floor and wall pieces of the 1970s that Kendrick first defined what the issues for him were going to be. In his dealings with the grid and tilting structures with which he started, he went beyond a narrow formal scope. However reductive and logical the early wooden constructions might have appeared at first glance, there was always an edge, a kind of quirkiness that set his works apart. This can be appreciated in Behind the Cross, 1982, the last of the wall pieces, and according to the artist himself the “culmination” of the entire group.1

In the context of the time, Behind the Cross marked Kendrick’s considerable contribution to one of the few major tendencies that held the attention of the pluralistic art scene of the early 1980s. It was a particularly riveting example of the new category of relief involved with crossing boundaries, those that had traditionally been thought to separate the different fine-art media. While it was dimensional and constructed like a sculpture, it hung like a painting, and had surfaces which had been treated to heighten both pictorial and graphic effects. The white passages and accents had been made by filling holes and grooves in the poplar with plaster, while the rich black tones were obtained from staining the wood with india ink. Although Behind the Cross was inspired by a specific experience, which Kendrick acknowledged in the title, its strong physical properties represented a synthesis of the general language of shapes and structures belonging to the floor and wall pieces. Kendrick has recalled how in visiting churches in Italy he was most struck by the view of the back of many of the Renaissance crucifixes, which showed how the body of Christ “was hidden by the structure of the cross except the unattached extremities, ie. elbows, knees and head.”2

In some respects, Behind the Cross, with its twisting curves and vivid suggestion of movement reaching out into the surrounding space, was indicative of the direction that Kendrick’s sculpture would take next off the wall. In 1983 he started the group known as the Small Wood Works, in which he continued the crossing of media boundaries, while building up a new language of objects.

White Wall, 1984, presents a revealing example of Kendrick’s intentions and methods in this group. It is a primary demonstration of his interest in connections between sculpture and drawing. This emerged as a key concern in the Small Wood Works, and it is fascinating to count some of the ways that drawing has been applied in White Wall. The direct and gestural manner in which the saw has been allowed to cut into the mahogany block and create serrated contours might well be interpreted as an instance of drawing in wood. And the notion of sculpture as drawing has been affirmed in how surfaces have been used in those areas that have been gessoed to make it easier to see the graphite marks made on them. Then the idea of drawing can also be seen as embodied in the intimate size of this object. In his large-scale sculpture, as well as in recent works on paper, Kendrick has continued to investigate the relationship of sculpture and drawing. His talent for bringing insight and illumination to this and other critical issues has made him one of the most respected figures in his generation of artists.

Ronny Cohen, Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, A Selective Catalogue (Andover, Massachusetts: Addison Gallery of American Art, 1996), pp. 413-14

1. Mel Kendrick, interview with the author, 30 August 1995.

2. Mel Kendrick, artist questionnaire, June 1995, Addison Gallery Archives.

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