February 18 – March 24, 2024

images are courtesy of Reena Spaulings Fine Art NY/LA. photo: Joerg Lohse

John Duff came to New York from California in 1967, just after the Summer of Love. On Manhattan’s Lower East Side, he shared studio space with a community of young artists (Melvin Edwards, Janet Fish, Neil Jenney, Brice Marden, Gary Stephan, Robert Neuwirth and others) at the legendary 76 Jefferson Street building (demolished in the late 1970s). In 1969, Duff was included (along with Bruce Nauman, Linda Benglis, Richard Serra, Neil Jenney, Barry Le Va, Carl Andre, Eva Hesse and Richard Tuttle) in Anti-Illusion Procedures/Materials, a survey of contemporary process-based art at the Whitney Museum of American Art (curated by Marcia Tucker and James Monte). 
While majoring in ceramics at the San Francisco Art Institute, the artist quickly expanded his sculptural practice by experimenting with found materials (rope, wooden slats, window screens, beach sand) and assemblage. In New York, he began working with fiberglass, producing austere, lightweight forms usually hung on the wall with a single nail. In the 1980s, he fabricated welded steel armatures to support torqued, blade-like areas of painted fiberglass. These post-minimal forms emerged from the sculptor’s continuing interest in geometric modeling: how repeating triangles, split or stacked spheres, curved channels and twisted planes can open onto unfamiliar yet strangely coherent topologies. Tense, unorthodox combinations of plaster and steel, steel and foam, concrete and rubber, resin and plaster, wax and concrete, etc, organize sculptural situations where form arrests attention at the very limits of what a viewing body can know or predict. One thing is done to another, space is changed, and the object becomes a sort of portal. 
Reena Spaulings presents a selection of works encountered in the Doyers Street studio where Duff has been working for over four decades. An early wall-based sculpture made of a tree branch and rope wrapped in black cloth tape dates from the artist’s very first solo exhibition in San Francisco, 1967. A bamboo structure with suspended resin-encased fish is the first sculpture Duff made after arriving in NY. Hollow, translucent fiberglass wedges and curved finlike forms were produced during the 1970-80s. Concatenation and Orange Concatenation link triangular sections of cut fiberglass, generating serpentine coils and spirals. A ten-part floorbased work, Five Materials in Combination, 2003, elaborates a sculptural code based on changing combinations of recurring substances and qualities. More recently, Duff has returned to ceramics, producing small-scale works with fired, glazed clay: a “broken labyrinth,” a house-like structure composed of intersecting planes and voids, and rectangular and circular volumes penetrated by crisscrossing hollow tubes. 

Duff has shown at Irving Blum gallery in Los Angeles, Blum Helman Gallery and Knoedler & Company in New York, as well as the Hill Gallery in Birmingham, MI. His work is included in many public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Art, MoMA, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and LACMA.