John McEnroe uses specially formulated industrial polymers to create large scale sculptural forms. For his installation in the atrium of MCA Denver, I found him balanced twenty-five feet in the air on
a cherry-picker, with an electric skillet filled with liquid-hot plastic the exact color and viscosity of nacho cheese, pouring the melted vinyl over dangling armatures. The process was dizzying and dangerous, with McEnroe and his assistant, MCA Denver's Nick Silici, making art in real time above a crowd of onlookers. The results were equally spectacular, the vast negative space of the atrium punctuated by delicate orange threads dripping, pooling and flowing through mid-air.
McEnroe's work appeals to me because it strips a painting down to its most basic element––color–and then uses empty space like a canvas, freezing impossible rivers of paint motionless in flight. The atrium, with McEnroe's drips and globs falling all around, makes you feel what it might be like to be inside a Jackson Pollock.
McEnroe uses industrial materials to create his pieces, but the original intent of his medium is almost beside the point. He chooses materials because they do what he needs them to do. In this case, they are viscous enough to be heated and poured, but then they freeze and remain static while still in free fall. They are the sculptural equivalent of a snap shot: a single moment captured in perpetuity.
For me Beauty Does arrives at the answer to a question that, without McEnroe, I might not have thought to ask: What does empty space look like? By the deceptively simple act of filling the space from ceiling to floor with materials that define a volume without filling it, I am forced to consider empty space not as a void, but as a thing in itself. And yet, while McEnroe's work is rigorous and formal, it is also truly gorgeous. When my four-year old daughter walked into the museum to see the work for the first time, she looked up, gasped and said "Mama, I love this art." So do I, so do I.
Image Credit, Headline: John McEnroe. Beauty Does, 2013. Resin, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Robishon Gallery. Photo by Alex Stephens.
Above: John McEnroe and Nick Silici creating Beauty Does. Photo by Sarah Kate Baie