John McCracken was a pioneering Californian Minimalist, whose otherworldly, signature 'plank' sculptures blurred the boundary between sculpture and painting. He was honoured at Documenta 12 in Kassel (2007), where his works migrated through all exhibition venues.Read More
John McCracken was born in Berkeley, California, and grew up in the northern part of the state. After spending four years in the United States Navy, he enrolled in the California College of Arts and Crafts. Influenced by Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism, his medium shifted from objects inspired by corporate logos to minimalist, reflective sculptures. Soon after graduating, McCracken began a distinguished teaching career at the University of California, Irvine, where he worked under the direction of John Coplans. Later, during the 1970s and early 1980s, his teaching career continued at the University of Nevada and University of California Santa Barbara.
In 1966, McCracken developed a signature sculptural style: the plank: a narrow, monochromatic rectangle, which leant at an angle against the wall, simultaneously resting on the floor, and thus combining both painting and sculpture. He soon began to be associated with 'Finish Fetish'; although his works were all meticulously handcrafted—a process that included spray painting, sanding, and polishing— they look like they were machine-made. This was exactly what McCracken aimed at: reflection above all. For him, this mirroring was about beauty. It was about redefining sculpture and making the viewer a part of it.
McCracken's sculptures were shown in nearly all the major sculpture exhibitions of the 1960s, such as Primary Structures (1966) at the Jewish Museum and Art of the Real at the Museum of Modern Art (1969). Concerned with issues of light and colour, his planks strike the viewer with their monolithic simplicity and lustrous effect achieved by their high-gloss finish. Inspired by the colours of Los Angeles car culture, they transform the space around them, reflecting their surroundings.
McCracken's sculptures fill the space with their totemic, religious presence. They are complex and simple at the same time, using colour as 'material' that takes the viewer into another dimension. But McCracken was never interested in the ordinary. After the 1980s, McCracken began to experiment with more complicated geometric forms. He left rectangular planks behind, and moved towards figures with crystalline angles, aiming to give different 'personalities' to his sculptural forms.
From 1971 to 1972, McCracken worked on a series of oil paintings based on Hindu and Buddhist mandalas, which were only exhibited for the first time in 2011. When he worked as a teacher, during the 1970s and 80s, his works received little critical attention. It is only after 1985 when the next generation of dealers, gallerists, and curators came about that his works were given their due.
On Ocula, the artist is represented by David Zwirner and Almine Rech Gallery. Recent exhibitions hosted by David Zwirner include True Stories (2021), Flavin, Judd, McCracken, Sandback (2021), and Miami NY (2020).
Maria Markiewicz | Ocula | 2021