This compact survey uptown at Galerie Perrotin covers the remarkable careers of Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler, a husband-and-wife team who worked together from the late 1970s until 1995, when Ericson succumbed to cancer at age 39. They showed at MoMA in 1988 and in the 1989 Whitney Biennial, and a retrospective of their efforts traveled across the U.S. between 2005 and 2008. Inspired by Gordon Matta-Clark’s socially engaged practice of the late ’60s and early ’70s, Ericson and Ziegler focused on places in the country that were usually overlooked by the art world. They encouraged community participation and mined local history to create site-specific works that were at once cerebral and populist—qualities very much in evidence in this show.
The show’s centerpiece, 1988’s Dark on That Whiteness, consists of 173 jars, each filled with a paint whose color matches one of the federal buildings and monuments surrounding the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Every jar is sandblasted with the manufacturer’s name for the particular shade and displayed on shelves according to the related structure’s location, creating a cross between an infographic and a hardware-store display. In a 1986 work titled Give and Take, broken tools taken from Central Park’s maintenance sheds were varnished, exhibited and sold to help purchase new equipment for the New York City parks department. A contractor contributed the material for From the Making of a House, the last work completed before Ericson’s death: a pile of wooden remnants resembling an unlit pyre. It’s a poignant memorial to a fertile artistic collaboration that came to an untimely end.—Paul Laster