“It’s not another tree, is it?” That was a friend’s response to my excitement over Roxy Paine’s new solo show, Denuded Lens, his first project with Marianne Boesky Gallery. It looks like a major departure from those signature, arboreal Dendroids, which populated Madison Square Park in 2007.
Denuded Lens features four sculptures that look like wooden amalgamations of various machines used in agriculture, manufacturing, and medicine. They all lead up to Checkpoint, a wood, life-sized diorama cast in anamorphic perspective. Checkpoint is a chromatically-restricted and barren TSA checkpoint high on detailing and low on details: an accurate and dutiful representation of a real checkpoint that allows only scarce traces of human traffic.
Checkpoint recasts those Homeland Security machines, routines, and institutions that confront us so intimately, but in a formal and generic manner. That is, we surrender our privacy (and disbelief) to programs and probings that ostensibly do not discriminate between individuals, who occasionally are randomly selected for further screening. In the eyes of TSA scanners and staffers, there is no “my” in “Don’t touch my junk” – supposedly.Checkpoint gives viewers the time and space to gaze at these neutered security apparatuses, which look like museum relics of our post-9/11 crackdown mentality. This might feel empowering to some viewers, who will sense the polychromatic pulse of autonomy as they freely snap photos and then walk away.
But we can’t get too excited about our empowered gaze. The anamorphic perspective is unsettling and disorienting; we are fooled into sensing a depth of eighty feet where there actually is a depth of only eighteen feet. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who swore that a pane of glass separated me from the diorama!
Denuded Lens is riveting, but it isn’t unique. Recently, other artists have overlapped into similar material and thematic territory, even if their intentions were different. For example, In 2012, Tom Friedman exhibited Untitled (video camera), a life-size video camera hand-crafted from wood and paint. In 2011, Lisa Kirk exhibited Untitled (Camera), fabricated through 3D printing. As for the distorted perspective, look at Richard Dupont or many of Robert Lazzarini’s sculptures, especially his iconic Payphone, 2000.There’s also that haunting feeling you get from a Thomas Demand environment, partly driven by the uncanny evacuation of a purposeful space.