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  • Writer's pictureDavid Eichholtz

Roland Gebhardt's New Minimalist Wall Sculptures Examine Presence, Absence and Voids

Roland Gebhardt Untitled LV0110, 2021 Painted poplar wood 42 x 42 x 12 inches Right: Detail Side View

The newest series of 13 minimalist sculptures by New York-based artist, Roland Gebhardt are referred to collectively as “Frames” and all produced throughout 2021. Structurally, the Frames are wall mounted constructions of white-painted wood, measuring 42 inches high by 42 inches wide and projecting 12 inches off the surface of the wall, that read as open frames hanging with the wall fully visible within and around the wooden confines of the frame. Each is comprised of one or two parallel vertical columns measuring 6 x 6 inches square laid on and attached perpendicularly at the corners (generally, or slightly off center for the T-shaped sculptures noted below) of one or two parallel horizontal columns of the same dimensions. The completed series includes structures that are either square, an upside-down-U, an upside-down-T, L-shapes, or an asymmetric cross structure. Voids have been an important and foundational element of Gebhardt’s artworks for many decades. What is meant by “voids” are the aspects of an object that are not there, which have been removed, excised, or simply not included. The voids are often deep angled cuts that look like joinery for assembling the modular elements of the Frames. Frequently, the voids bisect the perpendicular wood columns at an angle, to, ironically, “create the connection” between the two columns (visually, not literally).

Roland Gebhardt Untitled LV0127, 2021 Painted poplar wood 42 x 42 x 12 inches Right: Detail Side View

The viewer’s senses of sight and touch perceive the sculptures in the exhibition environment, which also provides a certain level of context and possibly suggesting to the viewer of being in a gallery (think Duchamp, but subtle). Through cognition, the viewer interprets and makes sense of what they perceive relying on their memory, experiential learning, and problem-solving skills to provide references for and resolution to what is observed. Through this process, cognition fills in the blanks and missing pieces, in the context of the viewing space they see the partial square structures as part of and related to the square frames. Said another way, deconstructed squares adjacent to a full square or U-shaped sculpture allows the partial structure to be interpreted or read similarly as a square in that exhibition context. This illusory effect is different from optical effects frequently seen in art, this is not trompe l’oeil, instead, it is interpretation of the perceptions and experiences.

Roland Gebhardt Untitled LV0124, 2021 Painted poplar wood 42 x 42 x 12 inches Right: Detail Side View

The voids are not about the removal or loss of something or absence of some part of an object, nor what was taken away, but rather, Gebhardt uses voids to focus on what they bring to the artwork and installation. A void can create, first and foremost, a new way of looking at something, putting an emphasis on an aspect that would otherwise be overlooked. Gebhardt’s voids create explicit spatial connections between objects: whether as a component of an array of similar and sequentially permuted elements; a series of relational elements, unrelated, but proximal to other unrelated objects in a presentation, that have an interaction between the voids; or with the geometric architecture of the exhibition space itself.

Roland Gebhardt Untitled LV0122, 2021 Painted poplar wood 42 x 42 x 12 inches Right: Detail Side View

About Roland Gebhardt: Roland Gebhardt was born in Paramaribo, Suriname 1939. He studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich and earned a Master of Fine Arts at the Art Academy of Hamburg. He is a sculptor working in a variety of media and exhibits internationally. Probably best known for his large-scale environmental sculptures that explore the concept of “linear volume” and presented at Wave Hill and Storm King, both in New York in the early 1970s. Another important body of work was his examination of “host volumes” using a range of natural materials, including boulders, fruit and vegetables in a critically acclaimed series of eight single day presentations in 1982 at the Kunstmuseum, Duesseldorf. Moving into a more conceptual realm, Gebhardt explored the complex subject of individual and group identity by leveraging sculpture and creating a series of masks to produce, “The Only Tribe”, a multi-media performance work at the 3LD Art & Technology Center in New York City in December of 2008. The theme of identity was further explored by incorporating dance with sculptural masks in 2013 at Storm King Art Center and on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution. "Trophies", a further iteration incorporating music explored identity and the transformation from a living being to a hunter’s trophy. Gebhardt’s works are in the permanent collections of numerous museums and public collections, including: the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, NY; Neuberger Museum, State University of New York, Purchase, NY; Brandeis University, Waltham, MA; Kunstsammlung of the City of Ludwigshafen, Germany; Wave Hill, Center for Environmental Studies, Bronx, NY; among others as well as many corporate and private collections.

Contributed by: David Eichholtz, Curator, Manager, Co-Founder David Richard Gallery, LLC July 31, 2023, New York

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