At the essence of the best visual art is the artist’s realization that he or she is dealing with a visual means of communication. A great work of art communicates something significant that the viewer discovers by experiencing a special aesthetic form; meaningful content is coupled with particularized, perhaps unique form. If one understands the importance of these fundamental tenets and the extraordinary difficulties incurred by any artist that maintains them, one begins to realize the challenge involved in creating good art. Many sincere art enthusiasts will take issue with these forthright statements. Whether they hold true for all art at all times has been and will continue to be debated elsewhere. Because these axioms are Michael Singer’s theoretical source they provide an appropriate introduction for anyone seeking insight into his art.
During the past ten years Singer has devoted himself to an intensive study of the landscape environment. He continues to carry out a variety of types of research, a term he often uses to describe his investigatory methods. With an enthusiastic persistence, he has evolved a unique work-life process that is about exploration and discovery. As a result of his highly directed energies he has acquired a special knowledge of natural phenomenon, as well as an insight into what an understanding of our physical world has to tell us about human experience. Communicating this knowledge is the intent of Singer’s indoor sculpture. The visual language that he has developed, that is, his formal style, is the vehicle utilized to transfer and reveal it. His most recent artistic statements, executed in his continually evolving abstract vocabulary, are presented in this exhibition at the Renaissance Society.
Physically, First Gate Ritual Series 2/80 is a loose weaving of small bundles of long, thin, wood strips. Several interconnected, horizontal layers rise and find support from a very few strategically set rocks and logs. A small number of lintel-like elements, again bundles of wood strips, structurally aid the upward movement. The entire sculpture is accented with dozens of tiny, protruding vertical pegs and several discretely placed rocks.
The sculpture’s immediate impact is intoxicating. At first the visual information it contains seems overabundant. We cannot read the complicated, weaving pattern, are frustrated by the elusive quality of the line, and are confused by the ever-changing shape of the multitudinous negative spaces. We are mesmerized by dynamic movement and expansive energy. The sculpture’s presence totally fills and defines the gallery space, so that we stand at the edge of its aura. Strangely, as we study First Gate Ritual Series 2/80 and allow ourselves to be drawn into its space, our preliminary, rather nervous and overwhelmed vision of confusion and instability is replaced by contradictory sensations. An internal order slowly reveals itself. The dominant, recurring curves create fluid, calm movements. A structural dependency existing among all the parts bares a system of weights and counterweights, so that any sense of the sculpture’s tenuous physicality is opposed by one of overall balance. We sense that the force of gravity is challenged and overcome, while simultaneously its pressure is respected and yielded to.
Literal landscape associations may be made to Singer’s art; however, this type of analysis leaves the work essentially unappreciated. Singer’s source is the environment; his sculptures and drawings are, in part, translations of formal configurations found outdoors. More importantly, they are aesthetic devices for teaching us about viewing the landscape, and as this participatory activity is learned, they become abstract equivalences for landscape principles. With his art, Singer is teaching us about the process of discovery and providing us with visual correspondences of concepts worth knowing.