New York Times, April 30, 2004
ART IN REVIEW: Charles Gaines
By Holland Cotter
Charles Gaines has an underground reputation in contemporary art, which is another way of saying he is underknown, at least in New York. Aligned with the post-Minimalist art of the late 1960's and 70's, he showed with Leo Castelli and was included in a Whitney Biennial. But he has been living and teaching in California for years, and is little seen here.
He is an African-American whose work is seldom overtly about race, which must partly account for the neglect. (Significantly, his name is missing from a recent survey book on black art.) However, the earliest entry in this survey of his work from 1991 to 2004 is an anomaly: it is a mural-size piece carrying fragmentary phrases that read like ventings of racial anger. Even here, though, Mr. Gaines keeps his distance from identity politics. The words were not written by him, nor were they specifically about African-Americans. He presents prejudice as a kind of abstract linguistic system with multiple, arbitrary, even accidental applications.
Accident is an important subject for Mr. Gaines, and two pieces in this show deal with it explicitly. ''Airplanecrash Clock'' (1997) is a kinetic tabletop sculpture in which a model plane repeatedly nose-dives to earth, its fate unexplained and inevitable. Three text-and-photo pieces from the series ''Absent Figures'' (2000-01) document fatal mountaineering disasters on Mount Rainier in Washington.
Environmental catastrophe is the subject of ''Greenhouse,'' commissioned for the show. It is a shedlike structure holding a field of artificial poppies set under colored lights, which almost imperceptibly brighten and dim in response to computer-generated readings of air pollution levels in California. Like much of Mr. Gaines's art, ''Greenhouse'' is visually clean, intellectually complex and about big things. It is time to get him squarely back on the radar.
While at Triple Candie, be sure to check out the installation in Project Space by the intriguing young New York artist Derrick Adams. On one wall hangs a set of his elaborate costumes, which suggest fuzzy animals adorned with aprons, preacher's collars and bling-bling jewelry. In a video Mr. Adams wears the costumes and dances frantically as a woman's voice recites William Blake's ''Songs of Innocence and Experience.''