Magazine article Artforum International

Portfolio: Rosemarie Castoro

Magazine article Artforum International

Portfolio: Rosemarie Castoro

Article excerpt

ROSEMARIE CASTORO wasn't precious about her work. As a dancer, painter, sculptor, and writer, she reveled in art's material activation on the staging ground of the city street, the journal page, or her SoHo studio, where she lived for more than fifty years. Nor was she afraid to get her hands dirty. She was a member of the Art Workers' Coalition and among the handful of artists asked by this magazine, in 1970, to answer the question, "What is your position regarding the kinds of political action that should be taken by artists?" She recommended straightforward economic steps (use the tax from works by dead artists sold at auction to support living artists) and philosophically theorized about her place within the creative order: "I think of myself as a container, and what I do as an eruption of what I am," her statement began. "Where do you get nourished? That's where you have something to do."

This past spring, Castoro died unexpectedly, leaving behind a body of work that shows an artist at the center of Minimalist and Conceptualist practices, yet overlooked in those movements' narratives. Her obscurity is hardly unique. But it may have been encouraged by her work's structural unraveling of formal systems themselves--an abstract elegance underwritten by deeply personal tracts that "constitute the best 'fiction' I have read about the life of an artist," as Lucy R. Lippard wrote in these pages in 1975, accompanying Castoro's own text cited in the epigraph here.

History rarely knows what to make of such testimony. But we will begin to try: In an exclusive portfolio in the pages that follow, we find again and again the artist's nimble suspension of abstraction and figuration through the form of the line. Evoking Richard Serra's famous Verb List, 1967-68, the line runs through the center of her practice as a physical act: to tumble, to chase, to flop over, to divide. It serves as a marker of presence (no small thing for a woman artist coming up in the 1960s) and as a critical device for mapping interior, interpersonal, and exterior landscapes. We find line as testimony (in her diary entries and graph-paper concrete poems); as spatial fault line (in her "Cracking" pieces, 1969, for which she wound aluminum tape over sidewalks, gallery floors, and even her face); as erotic, electric tangles (in small sculptures such as Wall's Underconsciousness [Chaos is a beast of knots and tangled hair scratching at your feet until told where to go by rational thoughts] from 1976); and as limbs and masses (in wood, galvanized steel sheets, and plaster works that sweep, dangle, dance, huddle, and perch). In the "Y" drawings and paintings, ca. 1964-65, line is a graphic symbol undergoing serial permutations. And it is nowhere more pivotal than in Castoro's astonishing "Inventory" series, made between 1968 and 1969, in which she tracked her daily interactions with both friends and strangers via a notational rubric of her own devising that, while conceptually complex and not a little mysterious, has the stunning formal clarity of a Fred Sandback drawing. (See, for example, her Portrait of Sol LeWitt with Donor and Friends--October 3, 1968. …

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