Rita McBride

Des Moines, Iowa USA 1960, lives/works in Düsseldorf/New York

In 1997 the work Arena by American artist Rita McBride was shown at Witte de With, center for contemporary art, in Rotterdam. Arena consists of semicircular segments of bleachers which, for that presentation, were set up in four different rooms. As a gigantic curve, Arena thus cut across the entire floor of the exhibition space. After having been shown in various other forms abroad, Arena was in 2001 part of a large exhibition of Rita McBride’s work at De Pont.

In his catalogue-essay Dominic van den Boogerd analyzes the work of McBride in terms of the sculptural tradition and particularly in terms of her work’s relationship to Minimal Art from the sixties and seventies. Minimal Art is characterized by the repetition of geometric forms and volumes and by the absence of a personal ‘signature’ in the treatment of material or the production of the sculpture. In scale and proportion, Minimal Art always appears in a direct relationship with the surrounding space. At the same time, the context of the museum serves as an integral part and, in a certain sense, also as a legitimization for the metal plates, wooden beams, concrete blocks and other material manifestations of Minimal Art. These are the aspects on which Rita McBride reflects in her work. Her images frequently have the appearance of abstract geometric forms, but on further consideration, the forms often prove to be taken from architecture or from industrial products. McBride deals with the problematics of this visual relationship by giving her sculptures an unexpected ambiguity in the material, size or title. The bleachers that make up Arena, for instance, are actually too big and too high for the space in which they are standing. This gives the sculpture an alienating sense of functionality. Van den Boogerd writes: “... Arena directs one’s focus to that which goes on behind, beyond or around the exhibition."

The Parking Garages also have the initial appearance of austere minimalist sculpture but are, in fact, bronze scale models of this standardized type of architecture. McBride often combines the use of traditional materials (such as bronze and glass) with the modernist design of utilitarian objects and architecture. Perhaps the most distinct example of this is the work Toyota (1990), an exact model of this car consisting entirely of woven rattan. Here the automobile, a typical product of technical perfection and modern manufacture, has been executed in a traditional craft. Not only does Rita McBride put the various (Western and Asian) cultural traditions into perspective with this contrast; she is also presenting a standard consumer item as a museum object.

The recent works White Elephant (2000) and Machines (2001) have also come about on the basis of everyday objects: White Elephant has been modelled after an air-conditioning unit, and the Machines remind us of the casing on video arcade machines. Abstract forms and the high-tech use of material (including titanium) give rise to associations with Minimal Art; but rather than referring to themselves, the sculptures of McBride point to the world that surrounds us–a world which is literally full of human activity and which seems to be wholly comprised of uniform parking garages, terminals and waiting rooms. “The work of McBride, writes Van den Boogerd, “alludes to the reality of the transfer, to the homo movens who travels, changes residences and jobs more than ever before, who has swapped the place of destination for a momentary stopping place and traded in his workspace for a laptop."