The Sum of Its Parts

Bruce Nauman, “From Studies for Holograms (a, b), 1970

Next week, New York gallery Cheim & Read will open a group show of works by twelve artists, among them Art21-featured artists Jenny Holzer (Season 4), Roni Horn (Season 3), Louise Bourgeois, and Bruce Nauman (Season 1). This diverse group creates artworks configured from multiple parts, sequences, or series – hence the connection among all of them and the exhibition title: The Sum of Its Parts. This title references to Gestalt theory’s statement “the whole is greater or different than the sum of its parts.”

Gestalt psychology studies the viewer’s innate tendency to create patterns, and to perceive separate parts as pieces of a greater whole. It is in this subconscious grasp at cohesion that the possibilities of meaning lie. The artists in The Sum of Its Parts effectively exploit language, repetition, and sequence to produce multi-faceted yet unified compositions.

Roni Horn‘s piece, “When Dickinson shut her eyes: no. 859” (1993), employs language from an Emily Dickinson poem, separated in parts, to create a work in which overall meaning is expanded. The repetition of circular shapes in Louise Bourgeois‘s “Hommage Duras” (1995) is almost musical, the different rounds like notes of a harmonious score. Bruce Nauman‘s separate images of contorted mouths in “Studies for Holograms” (1970) are unified by their serial layout and their identical format. Jenny Holzer‘s “Hand Yellow White” (2006) also relies on format to unite the various parts of her subject; the heavily censored, wartime pages of declassified U.S. government documents become that much more haunting in the cool formalism of their presentation.

The Sum of Its Parts opens Tuesday, January 8 and runs through February 2 at Cheim & Read, 547 West 25th Street, New York.