The relationship between David Rabinowitch’s sculptures and works on paper is multifaceted. His drawings can be directly linked to his three-dimensional metal fabrications, exist independently of them, or hover somewhat restlessly between the two realms. While his colorful woodblock prints made during the 1960s appear to prefigure later work, the relationship between the “Construction of Vision Drawings” (1969–76) and his geometrical, floor-bound pieces is perplexing, because the drawings, conceived as an independent series, highlight correlations and disparities between the two types of work—which also clarifies why over the years, numerous galleries have mounted dual exhibitions: those dedicated to drawings and those dedicated to sculpture. Thus, it was somewhat of a surprise to encounter “Early Sculptures,” a show that paired 11 drawings from that period with corresponding compositions in steel. The title, in one respect, however, was something of a misnomer. While the drawings date from 1975 and 1976, the sculptures were only realized in 2018 (for this reason, each work carries two dates).
The presentation proved to be as challenging as it was inviting. Many of the drawings were executed at a one-to-one scale with the sculptures, which instituted a degree of rivalry within each pairing. Though the drawings and sculptures are versions of each other, dissimilarities abound. The drawings, framed on the wall and appended by Rabinowitch’s notes, limit one’s perspective. They have yellowed over time, taken on various kinds of planar distortions and stains. The sculptures, on the other hand, show no signs of corrosion or wear and tear. Their surfaces, in fact, appear to have been burnished. As a result, they reflect a noticeable amount of light. Though some forms mirrored their two-dimensional precursors in orientation, others demanded a protracted period of examination in order to ascertain that sculpture and drawing were truly linked. The gallery floor complicated things by making the open spaces within the sculptures appear lighter than the forms themselves. In the drawings, those same areas of negative space are blackened, the forms themselves left blank or lighter in tone. The effect is that of a closed or filled space, which proposes an inverse relationship with the corresponding sculptures.
The drawings also clarify the schema underlying the locations of the bored holes in the sculptures. Situated along lines linking vertices at the perimeter of the forms, they recall constellation maps or, as with 8 Sided Plane in 7 Masses and 2 Scales with Free Region (1975/2018), the plans of Romanesque cathedrals. Here, again, the relationship is inverted. The black shapes representing the solid stone columns in the plans echo the shafts of air bored through the steel. The term “Romanesque” appears frequently in Rabinowitch’s titles. Though absent here, the conglomeration of shapes visible in Romanesque church plans, like those of Cluny in France, bear an affinity with the additive sensibility evident in Rabinowitch’s structures. Donald Kuspit has focused attention on the artist’s interest in Northwest Coast traditions, especially the totem pole. Like the totem pole, Rabinowitch’s works manifest a “disrupted continuum,” a whole built out of distinct parts. For me, the presence of the drawings in this exhibition subtly undermined that assertion. The lines along which the bored holes are situated form a network that passes over all (or at least most) of the components in each work, in effect linking them. Though no longer visible in the steel versions, the connective links act as a reminder of this second related principle of organization. Some may see it as a complication, a discrepancy, or be disappointed by the realization, but I think it helps demystify these “new” early sculptures. At the same time, the proximity of the studies by no means diminished the deep-rooted and intriguing complexity of Rabinowitch’s sculptural work.