Robert Overby: Jessica Fredericks Gallery

By Rimaneli, David | Artforum International, April 1997 | Go to article overview

Robert Overby: Jessica Fredericks Gallery


Rimaneli, David, Artforum International


The work of Robert Overby (1935-93) admits perhaps two overriding interpretations, distinct but not incompatible. On the one hand, his cast latex reliefs of architectural environments and fixtures belong to the history of the late-'60s/early-'70s experiments in antiform, process art, post-Minimalism, what have you. From the perspective of art history - or, more precisely, an art history of "movements" - it is precisely these works that constitute the salvageable core of the artist's output. But the show at Jessica Frederick's gave the impression that, in addition to the "good" process-art style of the casts, Overby worked in at least a second manner, a "bad" representational style of painting that is an amalgam of Richard Lindner, Tom Wesselmann, Nancy Grossman, and David Salle, among others. The fact that he worked simultaneously and prolifically in various other modes breaks down the simple narrative of "good" works; the oeuvre as a whole, good and not-so-good alike, seems at least as interesting a reading as the one that recuperates Overby as a "single-movement" artist.

It is certainly the renascence of post-Minimalist forms in the sculpture of the '90s that fuels the rediscovery of the palatable, art-historical Overby; in the reviews of the artist's shows since his death, scarcely one fails to mention the work of Rachel Whiteread. If Whiteread is Overby's contemporary reference, Bruce Nauman is the historical one. Few commentators have failed to mention his plaster casts of negative space from the mid '60s, such as A Cast of the Space under My Chair 1965-68. Overby was no doubt fully aware of this work (Nauman was living at this time in Davis, California). A piece from 1970 is titled Projected Space Between My Legs, making the link explicit, even as it engages another aspect of Nauman's cast sculptures, those that referenced the artist's body. Interestingly, Nauman is always mentioned in connection with his contemporary, Overby, but often enough has been forgotten with respect to Whiteread, although her works are more obviously derivative. Unlike Whiteread's Ghost, 1990, and House, 1993, Overby's casts are not of negative space but of surfaces (though there are exceptions, such as Stairwell, Paul's Place, 1971). These pieces are like the skins of interiors, and the traces of paint, detritus, and wood embedded in them confirm their indexical status. On the other hand, Overby remained interested in more conventionally pictorial values: according to Michael Duncan, "pigment and some applied marks were added to the surface to achieve an aged and weathered appearance." Such obvious "faking" would probably have been anathema to Nauman. …

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