"Pace Gems:" Flawless pieces, gorgeous setting lost in a jumble

Dominating the interior of SPACE, the new gallery in the sleek, bunker-like structure that used to house the unassuming offices of the Linda Pace Foundation, Andrea Bowers’ Memorial to Arcadia Woodlands Clear-Cut (2013), hangs like an outsized peduncle. Memorial, the LPF Permanent Collection’s most recent acquisition, is structurally chandelier-like—it’s circular in form, beveled and hangs from the ceiling—but assaultive, resolutely inelegant and ungainly. Its thousands of green paracords look like climbing ropes, because that’s exactly what they are; the metal hooks and ropes are the kind used to shimmy up rocks or trees. Affixed to these ropes, dangling listlessly, is a brown army of cedar wood scraps, the material opposite of crystal chandelier pendants. The sculpture is more or less self-explanatory, but paired with its title, it’s an outcry of wailing force. And it’s simply too damn big for this new SPACE.

Unfortunately, Bowers’ Memorial dwarfs the rest of “Pace Gems,” curated by former LPF Executive Director Dr. Maura Reilly, who left her post abruptly a little over three weeks before the exhibition’s—and gallery’s—opening night. Reilly’s advance curatorial statement reads, “We have mined the Linda Pace Foundation’s extraordinary collection of contemporary art and have organized the exhibition to demonstrate its breadth, as well as Linda’s vision as a collector [and] to accurately reflect Pace’s overarching collection criteria.”

The “Pace Gems” selections are worth seeing, for sure, and whet the appetite for the forthcoming Linda Pace Foundation Museum, in which her collection will be able to breathe. If you are able to focus beyond the clamoring gems and look at SPACE itself, you’ll find an arena of incredible promise as a project space, a theater for single-installation or for suites of inter-related materials.

As to the breadth of Pace’s collection, “Pace Gems” sure hints at it. The show is larded with marquee names: Hirschhorn, Ligon, Kusama, Serrano, Julien, Hatoum. And it’s all great stuff. I guess it’s meant to be a catalog, a survey, a “best of.” And indeed, the Jim Hodges (Ultimate Joy, 2001) is a completely delightful lit-up mini-masterwork, the Martha Rosler photomontage Nature Girls (Jumping Janes) (1966) sets humor, an energetic formalism and oblique social criticism into outrageous play, and the Wangechi Mutu diptych, Living Through Strange Times (2004), is breathtaking, floral and sexy and earthy and fine.

As for “overarching collection criteria,” though, this particular selection seems bereft of a through-line. It’s just … great stuff. These works as presented feel jumbled and airless. “Pace Gems” wants to show the good stuff without establishing priorities. The individual pieces aren’t in sync or in dialogue, the sight lines are crowded, you’re forever in danger of stepping on something or knocking something over, and you come out admiring, but not illuminated. It’s a confusing paradox of a show.

The best/worst illustration of this non-principle is the arrangement of smaller works huddled together around a ledge in SPACE’s southwest corner. This includes a suite of seductive and perfect pseudo-confections, I Hope We’re Not Too Late (2002), by Franco Mondini-Ruiz; a homely, coral-like lump of bronze, Untitled (1974) by Yayoi Kusama, and two-dimensional pieces by Tracey Rose, Katja Strunz and Linda Pace herself. The too-close grouping suggests retail display, which works with Mondini-Ruiz’ sly agenda but makes this corner collection-within-a-collection look like a gift shop.

It’s hard to fathom where “Pace Gems” fits into the overall Pace scenario. Its curator was not only absent from the April 18 opening, but has gone from the Foundation, which brings up a host of who’s-in-charge speculation. The collection’s most recent gem seems at odds with the rest of the presented work. The exhibition is an unharmonious fit with its gentle and beautifully lit venue, which is nestled within the gorgeous serenity of CHRISpark, itself a memorial to the late son of the late patroness, with all the poetic resonance and meditative qualities that it suggests. There are too many variables here to coax out any kind of coherent organizing principles. Go and look at the pieces, spend a minute or so with each one, and dream of what’s coming.

“Pace Gems”

Noon-5pm Wed-Sat
111 Camp
(210) 227-8400
Through Sept 13

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