Eleanore Mikus: From Shell to Skin just opened in The Drawing Center’s main gallery, and will remain on view until February 10th, 2007. There is an extensive amount of work on view, and this retrospective, spanning 1960 to the present, is a good opportunity to become well acqainted with the quietly intense work of this artist. By almost any standards, Mikus’ long career has been a success from the start. She was represented by Pace in the 60’s, and has work in many museums, including the Met and the Whitney, and exhibited widely in the US and abroad. She is Professor Emeritus of Art at Cornell, where she began teaching in 1979. In spite of these accomplishments, and her connections with Arnold Glimcher, Ivan Karp, Louise Nevelson, and Ad Reinhardt, her work has suffered from persistent lack of public and historical recognition — a situation the Drawing Center hopes to ameliorate.
Some digging led me to discover that in the late 60s, when minimalism was beginning to enjoy it’s moment in the spotlight, “Mikus abandoned her abstract endeavor to produce unapologetically figurative, vibrantly child-like paintings.” Perhaps that accounts, in part, for her being relegated to the wings of art history, since few artists other than Gerhard Richter are allowed to shift creative gears and get away with it. I think Anonymous Female Artist could come up with a few other theories as to why Mikus’ name and/or work are not more familiar. None of the figurative works are on view, or even alluded to in the current show.
There is no shortage of first-rate work in this exhibition, especially the “Tablet” paintings, and monochromatic white paintings that look like poured cream. Countless variations of grid drawings made by obsessively folding and unfolding paper offer a fascinating glimpse into the decades-long dedication to and development of a singular focus. The downside of this show is that, perhaps to compensate for a long gap since her last major exhibition, it is vastly overhung. These clean pieces need space to breathe, yet they are clustered in large groups as tightly as possible. I was shocked to see small pieces hung in a row from the baseboards to the ceiling. Those of you with less supple knees than I have will not see the ones near the floor, but even I can’t begin to decipher the details of a 14″ piece (approx) hovering something like 14 feet in the air. Many of the sketches and notebook scribbles in the display cases made me wonder about their inclusion. They contrubuted little, if anything to understanding the artist’s thought processes, and were more of an argument for burning one’s notepads than anything else.
These curatorial and installation pitfalls are not enough to seriously undermine the strength of Mikus’ oeuvre, which will hopefully endure and garner the recognition it deserves.