In the landscape of minimalism, John McCracken cuts a unique figure. He is often grouped with the "light and space" artists who formed the West Coast branch of the movement. Indeed, he shares interests in vivid color, new materials, and polished surfaces with fellow Californians enamored of the Kustom Kar culture. On the other hand, his signature works, the "planks" that he invented in 1966 and still makes today, have the tough simplicity and aggressive presence of New York minimalism.
"They kind of screw up a space because they lean," McCracken has said of the planks. Their tilting, reflective surfaces activate the room, leaving the viewer uncertain of traditional boundaries. He notes that the planks bridge sculpture (identified with the floor) and painting (identified with the wall). If Donald Judd's "specific objects" aspired to be "neither painting nor sculpture," as he wrote, McCracken's planks aspire to be both.
"I want to make sculpture out of, say, 'red' or 'blue,'" McCracken once noted in a sketchbook. To do so required great craft. The original planks were hollow plywood structures sprayed with paint, but the wood grain began to show through once the paint dried. He solved the problem by coating the plywood with a layer of fiberglass before painting and using power sanders afterward to remove any personal or organic texture from the final surface.
Black Plank, an early and rare work in pristine condition, reflects the artist's love of "an ancient Egyptian portrait of Chephren, in black diorite." For McCracken, who admits to believing in UFOs and aliens, each plank has its own personality, indeed its own being. From these idiosyncratic ideas, or perhaps in spite of them, his arresting work emerges. His ultimate goal, as with all mystics, is unity—not just of painting and sculpture, but of substance and illusion, of matter and spirit, of art and life. Such ideas recall the utopian aspirations of early modernists like Piet Mondrian and Wassily Kandinsky.
Thus McCracken's work not only engages with the Gallery's strong holdings of minimalism — including pieces by Judd, Carl Andre, Robert Morris, Fred Sandback, Anne Truitt, James Turrell, and Larry Bell — but also with our paintings by Barnett Newman, whose "zips" helped inspire the planks, and with our major works of early abstraction. Black Plank is a gift of the Collectors Committee and is the first work by this fascinating artist to enter the Gallery's collection.
on metal plate on bottom: JOHN MCCRACKEN / 1967
(Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles); purchased 1967 by Rupert Power Family Collection, London; purchased 2010 by (David Zwirner, New York); purchased 20 April 2010 by NGA.