Kabinett für zeitgenössische Bildhauerei

Madeleine Dietz [german/deutsch]

Years ago, in small town in central Texas, I encountered a farmer who had just come
from his fields. He was uniformly caked from his hat to his boots with a thin yellow dust: he looked like a clay cowboy that had become somehow animated. And then it began to rain, and the dust on his lothes turned to mud. The farmer continued to walk through the town and to go about his business. The mud, he decided, was natural, and he wore it with the pride of a man who had spent his entire existence working with the very matter that sustains all human life. When I look at Madeleine Dietz's art, I think about that dirt-covered farmer. Despite their cultural and geographic distances, Dietz is connected with him; the farmer's earth is hers, and ours too. We all relate to the earth in different ways, but the actual soil remains aloof and indifferent. It is heedless of our ideologies and feeds us and bears us up just the same.

In an essay titled "The Untroubled Mind", Agnes Martin flatly declares: "If you don 't like chaos you're a classicist; if you like it you're a romanticist". If one accepts this polemic, it would be tempting to insist that Dietz's monolithic steel-and-dirt sculptures fall simultaneously into both categories. Indeed, Dietz's works derives much of its power from tension created by juxtaposing refined, stable material - steel - with unrefined and structurally unstable bricks made from dried mixtures of earth and water.

Such oversimplified categorizations, however, are always hazardous, particularly when discussing Dietz's work. Although esthetically linked with Donald Judd and other minimalists, her formal concerns lie elsewhere. Like Judd, Dietz relates her sculptures to the spaces that contain or surround them, and the objects she creates are themselves enclosures that echo Dietz's theme of protection and preservation of the earth.

It may, in fact, be more helpful for Dietz's American audiences to examine her wholly occidental art from an Asian perspective. Despite her penchant for Euclidean geometric forms and for creating the large volumes and material heaviness found in works such as Not a Well (1998) and Wrapped Altar (1997), Dietz displays tendencies towards dematerialization, a central theme of Japanese art and esthetics. The volumes suggested by Dietz's fragile bricks may allude to platonic notions of eternal forms and natural laws, but they also recall the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, an 0sthetic paradigm based on the Japanese notion that the greatest artistic delights may be found in natural or "imperfect" forms. Dietz strikes a delicate balance between the ephemeral and concrete, between the ancient and the modern. Her diminutive slipcases recall the Japanese penchant for complex exteriors enclosing substances that recede or do not exist at all.

In much of Dietz's work, the hard encloses, or refers to, the soft; permanent architectonic motifs grate against crumbling soils; the monumental collides with the modest. While contemplating Dietz's work, we think of things that possess similar structures, such as insects or buildings. Dietz's somber, simple edifices become chapels, or gardens in which seeds have not manifested themselves as actual plants. A moment later her metal boxes are tombs, and the dirt is what we have been and shall again become.

Dietz is surely working something out - something beyond the statements she makes about protecting and preserving earth. She will not define this part of her work for us, and she shouldn 't. No artist should. Dietz delights in the pleasure of making, of feeling and seeing and thinking, and that is enough.

Brett Davidson, Houston zur Ausstellung Madeleine Dietz in der Galerie Sonja Roesch Houston, Texas 1998