Susan York: “Carbon” at the Georgie O’Keeffe Museum


Susan York’s sculptures and drawings fold the three-dimensional into two and back again. Her medium is graphite and geometry; the effect is pristine and personal. Her solid graphite columns float an inch or so above the ground, and are scaled roughly in a 1:1 relationship to the human body. York’s highly polished pieces recall Donald Judd’s Minimalism in their forms, but are decidedly Post-Minimalist in their sensibility. The surfaces deny entry, like the self-contained monolith of “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968). Still, graphite is organic, as non-threatening as a grade-school pencil. It absorbs and reflects light; it is warm and cool, compelling and confounding. To add to the paradoxical nature of her columns, York skews their geometry just enough that the viewer may not realize consciously that something about them is slightly off. The columns cause a shiver of vertigo in the viewer. We’re not quite sure we’re supposed to be feeling this sensation, but it brings with it a secret, illicit thrill. Her drawings do something similar: It feels as if the geometric shapes would, if they weren’t under glass, float right off the page.

It’s not enough, however, to describe the artist’s work here, because another player has made all the difference. Curator Carolyn Kastner put this show together with a flawless vision. She used her deep familiarity with the museum’s galleries, and with the Santa Fe-based artist’s work, as well as her encyclopedic understanding of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings, installing York’s works in the museum’s main galleries, in dialogue with O’Keeffe’s. The result is a perfect installation. Even the museum’s architecture is brought into play; the softly rounded adobe surfaces suggested by Richard Gluckman’s renovation in the late 1990s are reflected in O’Keeffe’s nearly abstract My Last Door, a painting from 1954. In turn, York’s Tilted Column is lit in such a way that it reflects the blacks, grays, and whites of O’Keeffe’s painting of her beloved patio door.

The last gallery belongs to York, and she shines. In it, the 1915 Suprematist exhibition “0.10” in St. Petersburg is revived, thanks to Kastner’s knowledge of art history, and the installation is effectively Malevichian. Two of York’s graphite sculptures hang high in the corners, as Russian icons, and Malevich’s Black Square, once did. It doesn’t hurt that York and Kastner know how to work every angle in the room while deflecting attention from their own talents and intelligence-the work is just that good.

Tilted Column, 2008, Susan York
Solid graphite, 70″ x 14″ x 15″
Collection of the artist
Photo: InSight Foto Inc. 2016, ©Georgia O’Keeffe Museum