Tom Orr’s shimmering and colorful assemblages read as a melding of Op and Kinetic art, and represent the persistent interest and endurance of an art form popularized in Paris in the 1950s. At the time a group of artists associated with Jesús Rafael Soto promoted their work through Galerie Denise René, where patrons were exposed to early variants of the style pursued with an almost scientific rigor. The artists reveled in the possibilities found in new materials and current theoretical research on optics, vision, and space. In the exhibition titled “Tightrope,” at Barry Whistler Gallery, Orr seems to have carried that early excitement into the 21st century, as evidenced in his newest pieces. He has worked along these lines for over three decades, while placing his work in countless collections, winning numerous public art commissions, and garnering several awards, among them the Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant in 2011.
This show consists of 10 new works each executed in 2015, including two room-size installations, a larger ink jet print, and seven small-scale wall-mounted three-dimensional pieces, veritable treasures, where Orr really shines. Viewers can enjoy the pieces in stasis, but should really walk around them in order to activate the optical quality they possess. Orr uses rows of horizontal and vertical black and white lines as a background, arranged in a grid-like composition and combined with blocks of solid color. He then applies what appears to be a tangled mass of wire, actually calculated with precision to interact with the lines in order to activate the space between the art and the viewer. A most engaging example, Aksarben (inkjet print, aluminum, laminate; 2015)-the title is “Nebraska” spelled backwards and perhaps a reference to mirroring and vision-features opposing sections of the black and white lines with a band of light orange at the far right. The unique aspect here is that the wire mass is painted with several colors so a shimmering array of multicolored sparks of light create a constellation of activity in all directions as the viewer interacts with the piece. Orr’s work argues that, for the time being, a privileging of embodied perception in art strikes at the heart of any proposition about aesthetics.