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Details
Charles Ray (b. 1953)
Table
Plexiglas and steel
38¾ x 52 7/8 x 35½ in. (98.4 x 134.3 x 90.1 cm.)
Executed in 1990. This work is number one from an edition of three plus one artist's proof. (9)
Provenance
Burnett Miller Gallery, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1990
Literature
R. Knight, "Sculptor Takes Himself Out of Picture," Los Angeles Times, 5 August 1990.
F. Bonami, "Charles Ray: A Telephone Conversation," Flash Art, Summer 1992, pp. 98-100.
Charles Ray, exh. cat., New York, 2009, p. 51 (another example illustrated in color).
Exhibited
Los Angeles, Burnett Miller Gallery, Charles Ray, July 1990.
London, Interim Art, Charles Ray, October-November 1990 (another example exhibited).
Berkeley, University of California, University Art Museum, Matrix/Berkeley 140: Charles Ray, November-December 1990, n.p.
Madrid, Fundación Caja de Pensiones, The Savage Garden, January-March 1991, p. 101 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Radical Scavenger(s): The Conceptual Vernacular in Recent American Art, February-April 1994, p. 52, no. 30.
London, Saatchi Gallery, Young Americans: New American Art in the Saatchi Collection, January-March 1996, pp. 94-95 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
New York, Whitney Museum of Art; Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art and Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Charles Ray, June 1998-September 1999, pp. 30-31, 79 and 117 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art and Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Jasper Johns to Jeff Koons: Four Decades of Art from the Broad Collections, October 2001-October 2002, pp. 192 and 204 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Oslo, Astrup Fearnley Museet, Charles Ray - Black & White, September-December 2006 (another example exhibited and illustrated).

Lot Essay

"Ray unsettles the viewer's very state of being, for he shows that perception reveals reality to be not immutable but in a constant state of flux" (P. Schimmel, "Beside One's Self," Charles Ray, exh. cat, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1988, p. 59).

Charles Ray's body of work has earned him a reputation as an innovative and provocative artist who challenges the accepted boundaries of what constitutes art. Through his work and his sculptures in particular, he plays with perceptions of scale and space and produces thought-provoking pieces that are simultaneously personal and public and aesthetic and autobiographical. Table contains one of Ray's most important and enduring motifs, and the clear Plexiglass surface on which he mounts a carefully selected group of objects is not only a deeply personal act but also one that allows him to explore issues of perception in relation to space and objectivity, as the curator of Ray's 1998-99 retrospective, Paul Schimmel, suggests: "Table is an exquisitely simple resolution of his explorations into perception, functionality, and inside/outside without tricks, pumps, inks or motors. Instead, Ray fused the Plexiglass table top with the Plexiglass objects that stand on or are embedded into its planar surface (P. Schimmel, "Beside One's Self," Charles Ray, exh. cat, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1988, p. 79). As such, Table can be seen as the triumphal culmination of many of the themes that dominated the first part of the artist's career.
The striking purity and strong clean lines of Table are the most distinguishing features of this work. Seemingly a solid plane, the punctured surface upon which Ray places his bottomless vessels allows an invisible circulation of space, penetrating the accustomed solidity of a table surface. This, together with his use of clear Plexiglass, allows us to see right through what should ordinarily be a solid object. The disquieting effect is enhanced by the artist's use of solid legs to support the piece, a device which becomes a reminder of what the work should be before Ray's interventions are carefully placed upon it. This almost contradictory effect lies at the very heart of Ray's oeuvre at this time, as he produces works that capture the perfect balance between stability and instability, balance and collapse.
Ray first began using the table motif in the early 1980s when he began producing works such as At the Table, 1985, which combined the robust geometric and sculptural qualities of furniture with his own bodily actions-an important part of his early work. However, soon afterwards he began to move away from including himself in his work and began to explore the idea of making the spectator a more active participant in his artistic process. The table proved to be the ideal device in which he could begin to introduce more figurative and still life elements, and these works marked a pivotal point in Ray's career in which he moved from his performance-based sculptures to his subsequent work.
Charles Ray's works are often deeply affected by personal circumstances. The clinical purity of Table's clean aesthetic recalls his iconic work Viral Research, 1986, which Ray produced in response to the mass panic that surrounded the AIDS epidemic in the mid-eighties. The death of his brother heightened his interest in mortality, particularly his own, and the collection of objects placed on the surface relates back to a time in his life when he and his wife were going through a painful divorce and Ray spent many hours walking along a local beach collecting containers that had been washed ashore. These personal items and recollections became the initial starting point for Table, a work in which Ray examines the relationship between transparency, reflectivity, and the conundrum of illusion versus reality. The image of the table-top recalls one of the longstanding themes in art, that of the still life, and indeed, Ray was deeply affected by the haunting simplicity of one of the masters of the still life, the Italian artist Giorgio Morandi. Yet, while Morandi's planar composition and muted palate suggests calm and order, Ray's use of clear and transparent surfaces destroys the existence of any picture plane and clearly undermines the sense of solidity and calmness that traditional still lifes seek to establish. This sense of playing with established norms and perceived reality lies at the very heart of Ray's work and is what makes works such as Table so admired by critics and curators alike: "Over the years Ray has often spoken of an art that can jerk one's head around-of creating objects and creating situations that are not what they appear to be and that force us to re-examine the validity of truths from a perceptual experience. Ray takes the bedrock off reality, whether something as abstract as a cube or as concrete as a human figure, and then twists, tweaks, and jerks it until it tugs at the reality of what one thinks one knows" (Ibid., p. 59).
The basic impetus behind Ray's use of clear see-through surfaces was its tendency to disorient the viewer due to its simultaneously transparent and reflective nature. Along with several important works from the 1970s, Table embodies some of the most significant ideas of Ray's later art. Schimmel notes that these works are "the first of what would become his lifelong exploration of the visually and psychologically disorienting effects of objects above and below planar surfaces, in which he attempted to deconstruct the opposition between these two terms" (Ibid., p. 71).

Table is therefore a work of art that directly affects the spectator's experience of space. This notion relates to the ideas current in the preceding generation of Minimalism, a movement that had to be on the mind of any artist coming of age in the 1970s. Theorized by Donald Judd and Robert Morris, Minimal art depended on the phenomenological interaction of the viewer's body with the work of art. This reconfiguration of the role of the spectator, as instigated by the presence of "primary structures" in the gallery space, has had profound influence on artists up to the present day.

Hence, Ray's oeuvre sits firmly in the post-Minimalist camp, as he deals with many of the same issues tackled by artists such as Eva Hesse and Bruce Nauman, whose work also critiques this prior generation of artists. And the lessons of Ray's earlier works like Plank Piece, 1973, and Untitled (Glass Chair), 1976, have helped shape the artist's work of the last three decades. Ink Box, 1986, a black box filled to the brim with two hundred gallons of printer's ink, offers another play on the Minimalist aesthetic. Here, the perfectly minimal cube becomes unstable, threatening to spoil the clean white purity of the gallery that contains it, as well as threatening to sully visitors to that space. Like these important works, Table subverts our expectations by manipulating the tropes of modernist art, investing it with humor and surprise.

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