AMY RATHBONE'S SHOW at the Gregory Lind Gallery ("On One Side of the River, Healthy Desires; On the Other, a Measly Phone Booth," Nov. 4 through 27) was a step forward for the artist, who distinguishes herself from her New Mission peers by using a harum-scarum, messy palette with an extreme, nearly religious rigor, something like Cole Porter crossed with Elliott Carter. Even the show's title, with its truncated binary, hinted that Rathbone knows well the double direction her art must take. She specializes in confusing you, for first you see a wall covered with tiny things she has made, and then your gaze takes in the electrical outlet, and only later do you realize that was no outlet, that was part of the piece. The labels of Rathbone's work say "dimensions vary" because the installations mount differently on different walls, and also that crack in the gallery ceiling may be incorporated into the piece, indeed, may have inspired its whole spidery web.
Rathbone's ontology reminds me of the classic work of New York-based Vija Celmins, the way Celmins's fleecy paintings of planes and planets look like cloudy photographs, before you realize the incredible labor that went into them. If anything, Rathbone is a more-bemused version of Celmins, maybe "more San Francisco," looser, not so wound up with all that European energy and anxiety. Celmins's famous sculpture-installation To Fix the Image in Memory has a table of pebbles and rocks and a second table covered with exact, painted replicas of those pebbles and rocks, identically placed. If Rathbone were to do it, many of the rocks would be missing from the second table, and it would be wired to the floor in some weird way. And there'd be one painted pebble way, way the hell over there.
Rathbone's is an art practice that falls somewhere between sculpture and drawing, and "falls" is the operative word. "I was originally a photographer," she says, waiting at the Atlanta airport for a flight home for Thanksgiving. "I've constantly been playing with, trying to understand, the places between two and three dimensions."
An installation she calls Papoose filled one large corner of Lind's handsome Geary Street space. Wires erupted in shuddery curves out of the wall and vamoosed back after completing their voluptuous arabesques. In silhouette they might have been a flock of pregnant women à la Saul Steinberg's work, but in effect they had a Broadway grace, like Bob Fosse's dancers bounding out of the wings in the "From This Moment On" number in Kiss Me Kate. To take on Rathbone must be a daunting proposition for any gallerist, who might be asked if wires can be poked through any part of the ceiling, walls, and floors. "I'm sorry, Ms. Rathbone," I would say, "have you tried where Robert Gober shows?"
In addition to the Lind exhibition's sculptural work, there were drawings light as the whipped cream covering Dolores Erickson on the A&M Herb Alpert albums of the 1960s. In the large A Windy Town in Nepal, hundreds of circles bumped together, tossed and coalesced, a mass of brown bubbles that formed an arm carelessly flung up into the air. Or was it a hill? In Nepal? As usual Donovan said it first and best: depending on where you stand, "first there is a mountain – then there is no mountain – then there is." And the bubbles appeared to be lifting away from the mass, breaking up form with the effervescence of the temporary. The label said these brown circles were made of tea, coffee, and gouache.