In the mid-1970s Keith Milow sought to scrutinise the traditional boundaries that delineated painting from sculpture by placing his work in a precarious position between both fields. The artist's Split // Definitive series undertaken between 1975 and 1977, of which the National Gallery's Split // definitive 1976 is an example, interrogates the conventional display of paintings on the wall and the relationship established between the work and a spectator.
The spectator encounters the artist's 'paintings' as sculptural objects, which instead of hanging flat against the wall, project out perpendicularly from the wall into the gallery space. The resulting effect is evident in one critic's description of the artist's solo exhibition at Nigel Greenwood Inc. in 1976:
All are variants of the same basic procedure. The support is raw plywood panel, edged with a fillet so as to give a distinct back and front, hung at right angles to the wall instead of flat on it. This means that from a normal viewing position facing the wall the spectator perceives the work edge on. He also, of course, sees part of the wall and floor as well as shadows cast on these by the work. From this view Milow derives the image of the work.
This established, a second panel is added above the first but reversed (ie back to front), and the whole image is divided diagonally in two and half of it painted on each panel in monochrome green oil paint. This means that to see the whole painting the viewer has to walk right round the work. The diagonal split ensures continuity of the image from one panel to the other: the junction of the panels is also the junction of the paint surfaces.
Milow also interrogates the usually 'secondary' role of inscriptions on the reverse of paintings; 'verso' labels that usually provide descriptive information 'about' a painting and are hidden when hung conventionally on the wall. In the Split // Definitive series, however, these labels are visible to the spectator and are integral to the work. In Split // definitive the typescript label on each panel reads, "SPLIT // DEFINITIVE 1976 / 96"x 4" x 72" oil on wood / 2 parts". The measurements 96" x 4" x 72" (243.7 x 10.2 x 182.8 cm) (height x width x depth) are not descriptive of the physical properties of each panel, but rather define the installation of the work in the gallery space. Indebted to the role of language in conceptual art, the typescript label preferences the artist's idea over the physical object, which in turn supplants the authority of convention.
Split // definitive was purchased as part of the Gallery's 1975 - 1976 Art Current Program which focused on contemporary British and European artists. Other works acquired at this time included Nigel Hall Green minus 1975, Gilbert & George Mental spring no.5 sculpture 1976, John Walker Study for Luke's Blue 1976, Mario Merz Untitled table painting 1974, Ulrick Ruckriem Untitled 1975 and Gerhard Richter Gilbert and George 1975.
- Simon Wilson, 'Keith Milow', Studio International, vol.193 no.983, September/October 1976, p.213
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010