Returning the compliment
American Beauty At Annely Juda Fine Art, 23 Dering St, London W1 until 13 July
'American Beauty' is a joy. Featuring 12 American artists from the past four decades, it is a mixed show, both in media and scale, but with a common Minimal or abstract vocabulary. Much of the work is well known - Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Richard Serra, and Sol LeWitt are all represented - but the intelligent selection, and the unusual juxtapositions created by both the hang and the fixed connections between the gallery rooms, allow you to see the pieces in new ways.
A stark Ellsworth Kelly is at the end of the main gallery: the black angled rectangle visually slides off the hypotenuse of the small white triangle below, making it appear to rotate. Two Judd wall pieces are either side, just in your peripheral vision. One of them - five stainless steel boxes sized in the rhythm ABCBC, set box-depth apart - has an awkwardness not normally associated with Judd.
Like the Kelly, it is fixed, but has no stasis, whether because of the movement that the strange uneven rhythm produces, or the imperfect finish caused by the spot welding on the sheets of steel. But the vertical face is inset with a deep blue-red that draws you in.
A green glow seeps out of the door in the corner, a clear calling card of Flavin. Inside the tiny room, there are, incredibly, five light pieces. Formally they are all the same - three horizontal fluorescent tubes, two of equal length sandwiching one half the size - but each has differing colour combinations of red, yellow, green and blue. Each piece holds its own, the room itself does not feel green; colours morph but do not merge into one.
Past a formless Ryman wasps' nest (highly textured white shapes painted onto a flat, thin, square board) hangs a Sol LeWitt. A three-dimensional grid of open timber cubes, five by five by 25, which are regularly eroded downwards until there is only one, it stops just before it skims the floor. Suspended Sol LeWitts are relatively unusual: the inverted, stalactite form gives it a tension that is both inherent in the material itself and apparent in the way it is perceived. It also prevents the usual architectural comparisons, as a perfect, white, constructed 'tower' becomes a more natural, organic form.
Behind the structure is a crusty, tar-like Serra. At first it reads just as a plain black backdrop, but, close up, its thick grainy texture provides a strong conceptual sounding board to the ordered Sol LeWitt. These three pieces, the Ryman, the Sol LeWitt and the Serra, work with and against each other, teasing out personal definitions (what is white, what is order, what is pure? ); and this is typical of the show as a whole, focusing as it does on dualities, on contrasts and similarities.
There is a strong traditional relationship between this type of art and architecture.
The 1960s Minimalists (Judd et al) were strongly influenced by such architects as Mies and early Le Corbusier. They designed their 3D works using industrial rather than 'high art' materials, explored ideas such as standardisation, repetition, and the machine aesthetic, and questioned spatial experiences.
But if Minimal art borrowed something from architectural Modernism, contemporary architecture is now returning the compliment - many architects, the Swiss school in particular, site Minimalism as a major influence. However, the similarities are more in spatial impact and surface effects than in process. The illusionary quality of Flavin, the depth of surface of Judd, those Ryman ways with white; it is these aesthetic aspects that architects use and respect.
Judd once said that 'a work only needs to be interesting'. Not now, they are more than that. They are objects of beauty too.
Sarah Jackson is an architect in London