Cover image of the review
John Nixon, Groups + Pairs 2016-2020, installation view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, photo: Amalia Lindo. Copyright John Nixon. Courtesy the artist & Anna Schwartz Gallery.

John Nixon, Groups + Pairs 2016-2020

16 May 2020
Anna Schwartz Gallery 21 Mar

John Nixon: Groups + Pairs 2016–2020 opened only a couple of days prior to the government mandated COVID-19 lockdown. But unlike other current exhibitions, the online presence of Groups + Pairs is minimal. A standard collection of four installation shots is accompanied by a video Red + Blue, which was also produced for the exhibition. Admittedly, it is not difficult to imagine what a John Nixon exhibition might look like. For nearly five decades, the artist has been producing monochrome and readymade paintings en masse. Groups + Pairs is this, on speed. Consisting of over 100 works, the exhibition is densely packed with Nixon’s typically spare works.

Enough has been written about Nixon’s unwavering dedication to the Russian Avant-Gardes and, in particular, his undying devotion to the Suprematist Kazimir Malevich. But one aspect bears repeating, because the consistency of Nixon’s output only reminds us of this original source. Malevich’s transcendental approach to abstraction was closely tied to the revolutionary climate of Russia in the early twentieth century. That Nixon continues to work in a style that he originally dedicated to Malevich raises a number of questions about the transferability of avant-garde rhetoric into the current day when, as all too many commentators have observed, the avant-garde is preserved in time only by its failure to achieve revolution. There is a tendency to denigrate artists who consistently work in the same style. That constant reinvention should be the goal of artistic output (to repeat a common cliché) points to our short attention spans. Indeed, throughout the 20th century, avant-garde movements including the Bauhaus and Constructivism embraced repetition. For them, it represented the democratising possibilities of mass production and industry standards and, by extension, human equality. The nature of the repetition presented at Anna Schwartz Gallery is one of familiarity, not boredom—something that seems all the more pertinent given the uncertainty of our current moment.

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