Archive for January, 2013

Imbibing Abstraction

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Did Francis Picabia go drunk driving with Claude Debussy and Guillaume Apollinaire? Sounds like it, and check out the awesome Tumblr blog that accompanies MoMA’s Inventing Abstraction.

Broken Windows

Friday, January 25th, 2013
Robert Lazzarini at Marlborough Chelsea

Robert Lazzarini (damage) at Marlborough Chelsea pairs the anamorphically aggressive artist with his first solo show at the revitalized gallery.  It features freestanding sculptures, wall-mounted signs, and an architectural intervention of canted walls, one of which looks ready to flatten any viewer who lingers too long beneath it.  The work combines technologically assisted fabrication with skilled handicraft, and the imagery suggests vandalism, breaking and entering, burglary, and the cash or lack thereof behind it all.  Violent, bloody crime is off the list – this time.   Distorted signs on the walls spell out the dialectical terms of the petty crimes we might imagine here: “Cash for Gold” and “Private Property – No Trespassing.”  And the morbid summation: “Dead End.”

An almost familiar liquor store sign melts, wriggles, and weaves upward toward the high ceiling, like a plume of blunt smoke or, if read upside down, the liquid poured from a bottle.  Nearby, a rammed door seems to jump from its splintered frame, which is fractured and bent like a folded ruler.  The sculpture is shaped like the angular word balloons that contain “Kapow!” and “Blam!” in comic books.  The door itself bears the cracked contusion of a forced entry, as if someone in heavy boots kicked it open.  Of all the sculptures in the show, this one feels forensically inspired.

Robert Lazzarini at Marlborough Chelsea

A window with open shutters flutters like a butterfly in midair, or like a suburban home with walls liquefied, then loosened, by sin waves.  It is an optical preface to the haptic body behind it, a chain-link fence that looks ready to blow away.

Robert Lazzarini at Marlborough Chelsea

The most dramatic sculpture in the show is a chain-link fence, distorted at several points until it seems to tumble like a windblown tissue.  To produce the sculpture, Lazzarini’s studio used 3D modeling and printing to create a prototype, then cast the piece in sections.  Assistants welded the pieces together and a specialist handpainted the surface to make it appear rusted and weathered.  This chain-link fence has a particular phenomenological proximity to its “keep out” counterpart in reality.  That is, it seems like a fence that Lazzarini actually mangled, rather than a faithful copy.  Along with sharp points and menacing barbed wire, its illusory familiarity makes it a brooding, hostile piece – but it is funny, too.  It sways and leans like a drunk, as if a Richard Serra monument’s bad little cousin had too much Four Loko in the parking lot.

Robert Lazzarini's chain-link fence at Marlborough Chelsea

Compared to Lazzarini’s prior repertoire of serial vanitas objects – guns, knives, skulls –  this show of verb-driven objects feels more like a sequence of events.  However, Lazzarini denies a narrative connection.  “Viewers are absolutely going to try to create some sort of story line between the objects,” he says, “and there just isn’t one. This is a disjointed, fractured scene.”  For me, there’s no need to struggle between the artist’s authority and a viewer’s demand for a story.  The potential for narrative adds another dimension to sculpture that mutates as we walk around it.   If a provocative artist can’t ward off the dark glamor and rich meaning of crime imagery, then an inquiring viewer can’t help but wonder about a sculpture with crime scene elements.


From this angle, it looks like a map

Winter Bummerland

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

The Summer is Over, Luc Tuyman’s tenth solo show at David Zwirner Gallery, is fitting for the winter season: it is as drab and dreary as the gray skies overhead.  His dour, distracted self-portrait might remind viewers of seasonal depression and lethargy.  Morning Sun (2011) replaces our source of vitamin D with a pie-shaped hole in a window; its shape might remind you of election season infographics, their details now subsumed to larger narratives.  Or it could remind you of James Q. Wilson, who developed Broken Windows policing, and who died last year.

Luc Tuymans, "Me," (2011)

Whatever topical associations comprise viewers’ responses, it takes effort to find meaning in this show.  One has to construct it.  Tuymans’ paintings offer wide, blank spaces to fill in, but tell you very little.  They are invitations, not letters.  Jacket (2011) reveals only the barest qualities of its subject, but nothing about who is wearing it, if anyone at all.  (Consider an alternative, like Mapplethorpe’s Man in Polyester Suit.) The gallery’s press release claims that the works depict the artist’s immediate surroundings, but that is beyond circumstantial to any Tuymans picture here.  Just by looking, few people could detect that this show is biographical.

Luc Tuymans, "Jacket," 2011

Most exemplary of Tuyman’s recalcitrance is My Leg (2011).  Without the title, we can only fumble an interpretation of the image: a blanket? a flag? unmade bed?  But it implies alternative, potential titles: My Downcast, Taciturn Gaze, or My Furtive Avoidance, or My Morbid Distraction.  To top it off, My Foot is not included, which seems to ward off the fetishism inherent to feet and footwear.  Though I’d love to see a bright red Christian Loubotin sole on a Tuymans canvas.

Tuymans’ palette is generally gray, his tone flat, and his effect deflating.  Violet limns an edge in My Leg, green and rose spot 11 PM (2011), and rich hues warm his flesh and shirt in Me (2011), but these fleeting passages of color fade into the blankets of grey viewers will remember, just like those details in infographics.  Now, it’s good to be challenged to search for color and details; it sensitizes our eyes and incentivizes slower viewing.  But if Tuyman’s  immediate surroundings are so vacant, bleached, and monotonous, then why look at all?

Luc Tuymans, "My Leg," 2011