First is the living thing, then comes the shadow, then the shadow’s shadow. So goes the ordering of Shadows IX, Set 1 (1980) [pictured], one of the cerebral, austere, and poetic works of Charles Gaines, on view at Dia: Beacon. A leading figure in Conceptual art, Gaines has been making system-based work since the 1970s, when the grid became the foremost formal device in his work, before going on to expand into systems formal, mathematical, linguistic, and otherwise. Dia’s recent acquisition of works by the artist forms the basis of this survey, which includes Gaines's first forays into mathematics-based grid drawings and other early experiments in medium and form.
Despite the rigidity of its process of making, Gaines’s work has always had a lyrical element to it. Work from the last few years, though sometimes still made in the same vernacular of ink on grids on paper, depicts the faces of theorists such as bell hooks, Edward Said, and Karl Marx. Gaines, who is Black, has stated that his interest in systems may have originated in his upbringing in the Jim Crow-era south—now, he is engaged with systems of oppression, examining race in some of his compositions, and working with museums to deaccession artworks to diversify collections.
Charles Gaines, Shadows IX, Set 1, 1980. © Charles Gaines. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen, courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.