Unfolding Minimalism: A Review of Robert Burnier at Andrew Rafacz Gallery

A lone, freestanding sculptural work sits like a small black volcano on a white pedestal in the middle of the gallery. Surrounding this piece, fifteen wall-mounted works hang scattershot around the centralized “Palazzo.” These acrylic-on-aluminum sculptures vary in size, color and composition, and together these new works by Chicago-based artist Robert Burnier comprise his latest exhibition at Andrew Rafacz Gallery, “So That Justice Should Be Tyrant.”

Known for his “anti-maquette” process, Burnier’s approach to minimalist sculpture begins with computer-drafted images, or as he calls them “initial conditions,” from which he will shape the material into a physical reality based on their virtual origins. To know this, however, beguiles the effortless way these packed structures occupy space. The smaller works, folded and crumpled in on themselves do not signify simplicity of concept, but instead an endless possibility of language through the rules of production and transformation Burnier employs. For example, larger works such as “Predella” and “Maestà” move away from the more compact, rectangular and square shapes of Burnier’s past work, allowing for the negative spaces to contribute to the landscape of the sculpture, where the voids of material are just as important as the lines made by the folds in the aluminum.

This literal expansion of form indicates an evolution in Burnier’s sculptural concepts and their possible futures. By titling the works with words from L.L. Zamenhof’s utopian language of Esperanto, this use of text in the exhibition makes an additional effort to humble Burnier’s process and reduce the individual artist’s hand in service of these concepts. Through explicit acknowledgment that “nothing, comes from nothing,” this stance relinquishes the human hand of the sculptor to the machine, and a palette “sourced from municipal colors and historically celebrated public works of art,” give themselves to a larger governing body. Burnier’s greatest accomplishment in this exhibition is how well he defines the terms in which he works. As a result, despite his humble attempts to ground his process, the work occupies the space with an undeniable poise and bravado that belies their unassuming construction.

Extending these concepts further, Burnier has selected a group of paintings and works on paper by five Chicago-based artists for the second room of the gallery to run concurrently with his solo show. Mika Horibuchi, David Leggett, Erin Washington, Caleb Yono and Orkideh Torabi make up the “Council” of artists whose prying, introspective styles speak in a contributing and contradictory approach to the minimal visual language of Burnier. (Ryan Filchak)


Robert Burnier’s “So That Justice Should be Tyrant” shows through June 17 at Andrew Rafacz Gallery, 835 West Washington.