Interview: Carol Bove

Published as the cover story in Art in America, May 2012. For more information on Bove, contact Maccarone.

Detail of W.A., 2010, shells, steel, concrete, and bronze

Carol Bove’s considerable reputation rests upon more than a decade’s worth of refined and culturally literate artworks. Her early sculptural installations, often taking the form of plinths or wall-mounted shelves laden with period books and knick-knacks, evoke memories of 1960s- and 1970s-era bohemianism, and the individual and societal soul-searching that accompanied the period’s wrenching social transformations. That many viewers have no firsthand experience of that historical moment and know it only through publications, films, and other cultural objects is part of Bove’s point. Born in 1971 in Geneva, Switzerland, and raised in Berkeley, Calif., she too experienced this cultural ferment at a remove, filtered as it was by the preferences of her parents and their milieu. Because of this, her ability to capture what seems like the essence of the era results as much from an understanding of how we construct history as from a feeling for the lived texture of the time. Her deft juxtapositions—of Playboy centerfold images, paperback copies of Eastern mystical writings and Western psychological treatises—both frame a worldview and reveal the act of framing.

Bove came to New York during the mid-1990s and graduated from New York University in 2000. She began exhibiting immediately thereafter, and her carefully calibrated arrangements of objects were widely acclaimed. In the ensuing years, Bove has broadened the range of materials she works with, the forms her artworks take, and the historical antecedents she repurposes. Though “the ‘60s” (a time not coterminous with the 1960s) remain a touchstone and one of the period’s emblematic art movements, Minimalism, a preferred esthetic framework, today her art has been drained of much of its cultural specificity. Bringing together materials both luxurious (peacock feathers, gold chains) ad rough-hewn (driftwood, steel), Bove has elaborated an esthetic at once unique and capable of rehabilitating artistic precedents that have fallen into disfavor.

The artist works in a large studio a few blocks from the industrial waterfront in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The location is important: she scavenges urban detritus from her immediate environs, and produces work in collaboration with artisans whose machine shops are within walking distance of her building. At present she is working on her first two large-scale outdoor commissions. One sculpture will be exhibited in Kassel, Germany, from June 9 to September 16 as part of Documenta 13, curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. The other will be presented later this year at a New York City location that is yet to be announced.

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[Two excerpts from the middle of the interview]

SHOLIS What has it been like to scale up your work and, given the unpredictable circumstances of the setting, to build for contingencies?

BOVE It’s totally, totally different from what I’m used to. Most of the time I’m very dependent upon everyone in the exhibition space taking care of the work, ensuring that no one touches things … and now I have to think about the work being rained on, or people climbing on it.

SHOLIS Is it difficult to accommodate yourself to that?

BOVE No, it has actually been stimulating to revisit my early experiences of outdoor sculpture, to realize how formative and exciting they were.

SHOLIS In the past you’ve mentioned childhood experiences playing with the Arnaldo Pomodoro sculpture on the Berkeley campus.

BOVE Yes, the sculpture garden at the Berkeley Art Museum was very important to me. It does not exist now—I think because of earthquake concerns. Anyway, later I had the idea that outdoor sculpture was simplistic because of its need to be accessible, and now I’m realizing how wrong I was about that. There is something fascinating about placing out in the world an object with no instrumental purpose, something provocative about the gesture.

SHOLIS How far have you traveled along a path from, on the one hand, artworks that require knowledge of cultural references to, on the other, artworks that are easily accessible?

BOVE In terms of how I conceive of the works’ intellectual contexts, I don’t think there’s a big difference between my gallery shows and my new outdoor projects. In both instances I’m interested in the open-endedness of the situation. In an outdoor environment, especially one used for numerous other purposes, viewers’ initial indifference requires something different of the artist, a novel way to hook people. The benefit, of course, is that viewers don’t come to the work with preconceived ideas of what it should be or do. How can an artist communicate through a public artwork, even on an unconscious level? These are interesting questions to try to answer.

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SHOLIS Can you discuss your relationship to Berkeley, where you grew up?

BOVE There are wonderful hills and parks in Berkeley, but I also always loved the city’s more industrial areas.

SHOLIS Near the water?

BOVE Yes. Even as a teenager, making artworks—my juvenilia, I guess—I was really attracted to industrial districts. I collected rusty junk. Decades later I realized, “Oh, I’m still doing what I did as a teenager.” The use I make of these materials is different but the impulse is consistent.

I have a kind of romantic attraction to liminal spaces. I feel they are underappreciated. They feel wild, and the lack of care for them is attractive to me. Somehow I identify it with 1930s-era Farm Security Administration photographs—shabby America.

SHOLIS So it’s the atmosphere surrounding the materials more than the act of rescuing. You’re not a hoarder?

BOVE [laughs] No, I’m not obsessive-compulsive. I’m not a collector; I don’t like to hold on to things. I spend time with them and then allow them to continue their lives elsewhere.

SHOLIS Though it’s a very carefully thought out path that you send them on.

BOVE Right. For now, at least. But down the road they may end up unbecoming sculpture. I can imagine them losing their sculptural form. In a way, I build for this. My sculptures can and must be taken apart and then put back together. Disaggregation is important. Therefore, each element needs to maintain its individual identity, its autonomy.

Untitled, 2009, peacock feathers on linen

Nathan Carter

Published in Artforum, November 2010. For more information about and additional images of the exhibition, click here.

Nathan Carter, WILLIAMSBURG BROOKLYN PUBLIC HOUSING PROJECT CONCEALED SWINDEN CALL AND RESPONSE, 2010, steel, aluminum, acrylic and enamel paint, dimensions variable

This was a restrained exhibition. Of course, when speaking of Nathan Carter’s willfully eccentric, vibrant sculptures, restrained is a relative term. The flags, legible icons, and letterforms for which he is known, as well as the overt references he has made to maps, racetracks, soccer teams, and communications systems, have been mostly purged from his newest works. The unwieldy ham-radio-chatter titles have likewise been trimmed. In fact, having spent the past decade as a ventriloquist who made the modernist visual language of Alexander Calder, Jean Arp, and Joan Miró speak to contemporary issues—networking, long-range communication, globalization—Carter now seems content to focus on form and to experiment with new materials. And he does so with considerable success: The seven sculptures presented here evince a knack for balancing abstract shapes and bright colors in a manner that seems both spontaneous and masterfully assured.

In these works, Carter incorporates trash lifted from the streets of Brooklyn, affixing broken taillight covers, bottle caps, corks, wood, Plexiglas, and the like to steel armatures and often suspending the abstract fields of colorful shapes a few inches from the gallery walls. Sometimes these found objects are arranged loosely, as in BROOKLYN STREET TREASURES FROM NEW UTRECHT AVENUE… (all works 2010), which appears windblown, as if its pieces were scuttling from right to left. Elsewhere, they are given a tighter formation, as in two roughly six-foot-diameter “radar reflectors,” one multicolored and one painted white, that hung in front of a baby blue wall. These assemblages resolve as perfectly as composed two-dimensional images; not a Gatorade cap or a shard of Plexiglas is out of place. A freestanding work, VERONICA VEX FREE FOR ALL RADIO HOUR…, is visible in the round and not as successful. The geometric shapes painted onto and objects hanging from its two vertical supports are too small, too fussy, for its overall scale; the sculpture packs none of the iconic punch of the others arranged around the gallery walls. The largest work in the exhibition, WILLIAMSBURG BROOKLYN HOUSING PROJECT…, by contrast, is also the most promising. Here Carter’s shapes are affixed to thin steel poles, which extend from the wall at various distances, creating a shallow space not unlike a stage. The effect is heightened by several freestanding shapes, actors amid this roughly geometric stage set, and by three additional steel wires, painted black, two of which float atop the composition like a theatrical curtain. The sculpture insists, like nearly all the others presented here, on a frontal view. Yet the varied distance of each piece from the wall at least implies movement in three directions, and nominally creates a field through which one can move.

To casual viewers, the informality of these works may mask the confidence required to make them. Labor was an obvious element of Carter’s earlier sculptures, especially his densely tangled, painted-wood reliefs. The equipoise achieved here, however, appears more slapdash, as if making the works were a matter simply of sticking scraps into place. Yet these lean, smart, formal exercises confirm Carter’s place in the company of talented artists, from Tony Feher to Evan Holloway to Jason Meadows, who, in their alchemical gestures, impart to simple, undistinguished objects a second life.

Installation view, Casey Kaplan Gallery, 2010
Installation view, Casey Kaplan Gallery, 2010

Jason Dodge

Published in Artforum, January 2010. To see more images from the exhibition, and to download its press release, click here.

Jason Dodge, Seven Homing Pigeons..., detail, 2009.
Jason Dodge, Seven Homing Pigeons..., detail, 2009.

From Trisha Donnelly to Jonathan Monk to Simon Starling, Casey Kaplan Gallery represents a number of artists whose conceptually inflected artwork constructs or relies upon narrative scaffolding. So, too, does Jason Dodge’s slow-burn art. His sixth exhibition at this gallery was visually unprepossessing but upon reflection revealed engaging emotional and psychological complexities. Take, for example, in order of imagined altitude / an astronomer, a meteorologist, an ornithologist, a geologist, and a civil engineer, cut pockets from their trousers (all works 2009). One would be hard-pressed to know, without the title, what to make of the small pile of pieces of fabric resting on a pedestal. The idiosyncratic professional hierarchy suggested by the arrangement, funny on its own, is buttressed by knowledge of Above the Weather, 2007, an earlier work (not in this show) for which Dodge commissioned a Polish woman to knit a length of yarn equivalent to the distance from the surface of the earth to the height at which one is “above the weather.” Together, these sculptures manifest Dodge’s sky-gazing Romantic conflation of science and poetry, perhaps akin to that of the enthusiastic amateurs Richard Holmes describes in his appropriately titled recent book The Age of Wonder (2008).

As evidenced in the rest of this exhibition, for Dodge, poetry most often takes precedence. That was the show’s chief strength and its primary liability. As flat-footed works such as light and glove or sleeping bag / air / a tenor recorder suggest, it can be exceedingly difficult to communicate to viewers the ineffable meanings that cling to demure arrangements of everyday objects. Your moveable and un-moveable parts / a broken furnace removed from house, and a box / that carried a new furnace demonstrates the limit of this methodology at its other extreme. The objects Dodge selected—a broken furnace and the box of its replacement—suggest rich connections to both a city’s arterial infrastructure systems and to the lives once and soon to be literally warmed by the furnace. It is his self-conscious intervention into this arrangement, two small pieces of pink paper on which the word VIOLINS is written, that comes off as affected and twee. A current (electric) / through / (A) tuning fork / and light achieves a better balance. No more than a lightbulb whose long electrical cord has been sliced open to allow the copper wiring to be soldered to the ends of a tuning fork, the sculpture prompts koanlike questions such as, What is the sound of light?

The strongest artwork in the exhibition alone proved the value of Dodge’s explorations at the edge of sentimentality. (Its descriptive title is too long to reproduce here.) To make the work, Dodge typed a woman’s full married name, divided into syllables, on n arrow strips of paper that he affixed to the legs of homing pigeons, which returned to Berlin from Kraków, Poland. He did the same for the woman’s maiden name, though this time the pigeons carried the paper slips from western Ohio to New York. Her Germanic maiden name, Eleanor M. Edelmann, hints at a personal history that might likewise have included an emigration from Kraków or Berlin to the United States. A missing syllable in her maiden name—what happened to that pigeon?—underscores the extreme uncertainty of any such flight. These conceptually linked journeys can also be tied to the risky, speculative process of artmaking itself. By installing the framed slips of paper on opposing walls, Dodge summoned a poignant affective charge that even the most detached viewer would have difficulty not feeling.

Jason Dodge, In Order of Imagined Altitude..., 2009.
Jason Dodge, In Order of Imagined Altitude..., 2009.

Robert Kinmont

Published in Artforum, December 2009. For more information about and to see additional images of Kinmont’s work, click here.

Robert Kinmont, 8 Natural Handstands (detail), 1969.
Robert Kinmont, 8 Natural Handstands (detail), 1969.

For those who arrived in the art world during the past three decades, Robert Kinmont was known, if at all, through the photograph of him performing a cliff’s-edge handstand reproduced in Lucy Lippard’s 1973 book Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972. That picture is part of Kinmont’s 8 Natural Handstands, 1969, which also finds him upended in desert grasslands and in a shallow river. The work is emblematic of the small but potent body of sculptures, photographs, and performances Kinmont created in the late 1960s and early ’70s, many of which were also on view in this exhibition, his first solo show in thirty-eight years. He stopped making art in 1975, initially taking care of his children so that his wife could finish a cookbook, and later studying Buddhism and working as a carpenter. In 2005 he picked up where he had left off. Sculptures of hollowed-out logs, one filled with peacock feathers, made in 1973, and one, from 2007, filled with dirt and children’s toys, point to continuity. But two other recent log sculptures—filled, respectively, with “fear” and the “sound of sawing”—suggest a change took place after all during his Zen-inflected intermission.

In both a literal and an abstract sense, an intimate connection to the northern California landscape marks Kinmont’s practice. Besides the hollowed-out logs, the show included Weed Container, 1964, a small, glass-framed box holding a collection of weeds; Wait, Wait, Wait, Grasp, 2008, a round cake made of walnut husks that was formed by their decomposition after they were collected in a plastic bucket; Hidden Meaning, 2006, a piece of willow that Kinmont whittled so that its two forked forms are joined only at their end points; and Willow Loop, 1972/2005, a delicate willow rod that Kinmont has formed into a circle by inserting one end into the other. My Favorite Dirt Roads, 1969/2009, a suite of sixteen deadpan black-and-white photographs and a framed text piece bearing the title, contains no organic material but nonetheless discloses an easy familiarity with a region that, without markets, might be impenetrable to outsiders. (In a recent interview, Kinmont speaks fondly and at length of the memories associated with just one of these roads.)

The amateurish aesthetic, the serial presentation, and especially the subtle traces of absurdist humor in works like My Favorite Dirt Roads and 8 Natural Handstands bring to mind roughly contemporaneous camera-based explorations by Ed Ruscha and Bruce Nauman. Similarly, some of Kinmont’s sculptures suggest the work of post-Minimalist or process-oriented artists. Source Support, 1970-73, in which four wooden legs each support two crossbeams, would collapse were it not for the joints swelling with water seeping into the wood from copper funnels. In a roundabout way this structural clarity and precariousness evokes Richard Serra’s “prop” sculptures while simultaneously prompting a unique kind of mindfulness—one must, after all, keep the work hydrated.

Corollaries for Kinmont’s recent output in today’s art world may be harder to find. Yet the artist’s infusion of late-’60s and early-’70s artistic strategies with a Buddhist concentration on the fullness of immediate experience seems more promising than most of today’s aesthetic and political rehashings of that earlier era. And, of course, unlike many of those now trading in nostalgia, Kinmont was actually there.

“Well, I was the last one to jump off the house.”

Artist Mike Bouchet describes watching his large-scale sculpture created for the Venice Biennale sink in the city’s waterways: “Once it starts to go… I was surprised, kind of shocked. But then it’s kind of like, Wow, what do I do? You have to start looking at it; I look at it sideways. How is it going? And then … well, I was the last one to jump off the house. I can understand now why you don’t see a lot more houses like this floating.” Watch it happen in this AFP-produced video on YouTube. (Via BldgBlog and FlavorWire.)

Ry Rocklen

Published in Artforum, summer 2009.

Ry Rocklen, installation view, Marc Jancou Contemporary, New York, 2009
Ry Rocklen, installation view, Marc Jancou Contemporary, New York, 2009

Los Angeles artist Ry Rocklen’s fascination with the “soul residue” of discarded objects leads him to create sculptures that, while not anthropomorphic, possess many human qualities: tenderness, a complicated history, resilience despite apparent fragility. “Good Heavens,” the artist’s first exhibition in New York since the 2008 Whitney Biennial, emphasized that the seemingly childlike or quasi-mystical lens through which he views the world’s detritus is conjoined with a talent for drawing out and communicating the essential dignity in whatever catches his eye. Yet his alchemical transformations—a better word may be resuscitations—sidestep the conceptual concerns of many other artists who deploy ready-made objects in their work; one doesn’t sense Rocklen is too interested in the theoretical issues raised by Duchamp and his heirs. Instead, the affective power granted his sculptures by their art-world context seems to be, in his view, an extension of his scavenged items’ own intrinsic nobility.

In the gallery’s main room, triangular tiles, made from a claylike material and covered with grids of pennies, were laid over much of the floor, giving the gallery a burnished copper glow. Three hexagonal openings in the arrangement served as negative-space pedestals for freestanding sculptures. On the Fourth Day (all works 2009) is a limp, folded-over mattress encased in resin and pin-striped with iridescent purple tiles. Rocklen has stated that the mattress was found on day four of his hunt in Los Angeles alleys, but given the tiles’ winking reflections, the title also calls to mind the Book of Genesis: On the fourth day, God created lights in the firmament. “We are all in the gutter,” as Oscar Wilde once observed, “but some of us are looking at the stars.” Unbrella is a ripped-up patio umbrella coated in cornflower-blue epoxy putty and jammed into the seat of a wooden chair. The sculpture possesses the least formal allure of those presented here, and its reliance on a titular pun (reminiscent of Rocklen’s earlier works) seemed somewhat out of place. A third work, Siren, transforms a threadbare window curtain, anchored on a thin metal base and stiffened with epoxy putty, into a wavy, midnight-blue fence or hedgerow, its tattered ends reaching skyward. Rocklen has also driven hundreds of silver- and copper-colored tacks through the amterial, and the reflections captured in their small circular heads animate the work. Siren’s magnetism is potent yet oddly difficult to explain.

Rocklen’s role as an object healer stems from his interest in diverse notions of health and spirituality, two interrelated themes that underpin other works in the show. On the walls surrounding the aforementioned freestanding sculptures hung a series of nine “Magic Number Ponchos,” linen garments backed with pastel-colored cotton. These works each make consistent use of one number: Not only is Magic Number Poncho (Three Threes) cut so that it has three sides, but the runic design on its chest is made from joining together three numeral 3s. Similarly treated is the octagonal poncho with a flowerlike emblem created from eight 8s. As in some of the artist’s earlier solo shows, a braided rope was strung along the top of the wall like a frieze. Here it wound its way up a stairwell to a mezzanine gallery, where one discovered that from it hung a tondo painting of a pie-chart design in Miami-bright colors. Based on “health medallions” Rocklen once made with elementary-school art students, the piece, in its unusual presentation, also recalls the Thai tradition of wrapping strings around buildings for protection. As with Rocklen’s own faith in the castoffs he uses for his sculptures, the works included here require a certain suspension of disbelief by the viewer. For those willing to grant it, the rewards were many.

Interview: Roger Hiorns

British artist Roger Hiorns is known for deploying salt, industrial-strength disinfectants, and, most consistently, copper sulfate crystals in his sculptures. A solo exhibition of new work opens next week at Corvi-Mora in London. It is timed to coincide with Seizure, a new, large-scale installation commissioned by Artangel and presented at 151–189 Harper Road, London, September 3–November 2. Interview, in the artist’s voice, published on on August 28, 2008. To see the interview in context, click here.

Roger Hiorns, Seizure, installation view, London, 2008
Roger Hiorns, Seizure, installation view, London, 2008

We didn’t have any expectations for the site of Seizure when we began looking, and in fact we traversed every single borough of London in search of a suitable building to host the installation. It’s quite eye-opening to do that kind of research. At the time we were looking, the city was in the midst of its housing and property-development boom, which has now completely dissipated; London has become a different place quite quickly. What we eventually found was a very isolated, stand-alone, uninhabited small housing block from the 1970s. Its aspiration as a building has always been quite limited; it was mostly bedsits. In a way, I’m accentuating the last period of its use. The few buildings we found during our search were mostly social housing of this type, which are themselves another part of London’s history that is now being eclipsed. Interestingly, though, the building is right in the heart of the city; it’s in a pocket of isolation in the center of London, incredibly urban and yet very quiet.

Once we found the location, the production itself was conceptual: I wanted to introduce a material that was anathema to the building itself. Crystallization is always, for me, a kind of claiming—I say “claiming” because the process is so amplified here as to be a kind of obfuscation of the building. I’ve encouraged an alien aesthetic, one quite contrary to its vaguely modernist history (with its roots in Le Corbusier’s designs). The building has a certain sort of governing rationality; by introducing these crystals, I’ve introduced some irrationality. The process also allows me to remove myself from the equation; crystallization is an autogenesis, and its results are an auto-aesthetic. I get to become an objective viewer of my own processes, at least to the extent possible. It’s a psychological position to take, to try and obsolete myself within my own realm of activity.

To that end, it has been very interesting to observe the people with whom I’ve worked on this project. I’ve tried to understand the way they work and what their expectations are. Watching them meet this profound ambiguity—my detachment from my own artmaking process—has been fascinating. I don’t anticipate any artwork to be made. I just put structures into place, and something comes into existence. Will it actually happen? Will there be a failure because of contamination? I’m not going to be helpful and say what it’s going to look like. I prefer the massive loss of control.

The project itself has two phases. There is the site at present, with its crystallization taking place behind closed doors. It’s an unrelenting process, which has a certain purity, but not one I can predict. The second phase is to open the doors and tamper with that process—to fuck it up. People will enter into this crystallized environment—well, possibly crystallized, as we don’t know what kind of landscape will appear within the building—and their entry is part of its destruction. The viewer always has a role to play in my work.

How people will respond to the environment, how they will read it, is completely up to them. I don’t want to evoke a particular type of space; I don’t intend for this crystalline environment to seem spiritual or theatrical. I would probably call myself a kind of atheist in this respect: Processes are always for me a kind of compulsion, a psychological need, and not a spiritual yearning. I’m curious about one’s relationship to objects and to one’s own surroundings, rather than being interested in building superstitious links to the outside world. I’ve created an unnatural system to which one must respond; the thing is actually just the sum of its parts. That sum might lead toward something deemed transcendent, but that’s happening within you.

As told to Brian Sholis

Brian Jungen

Published in Artforum, June 2008.

What separates true artistic development from mere rehashing? At what point should we expect established artists to move beyond the ideas that brought them their initial success? Brian Jungen’s second solo exhibition at Casey Kaplan Gallery prompted these and related questions. For nearly a decade, Jungen, a member of the indigenous Dane-Zaa Nation of Northern British Columbia, has explored the intersection of traditional cultures and first-world consumer economies. His breakout exhibition, at Charles H. Scott Gallery in Vancouver in 1999, featured the first of a series of sculptures made by pulling apart Air Jordan tennis shoes and restitching them into semblances of the Haida masks created by the aboriginal populations of Canada’s northwest coast. In the intervening years, Jungen has fashioned, out of golf bags, sculptures that recall totem poles; carved baseball bats to look like “talking sticks” (used by aboriginal tribes to designate the right to speak in meetings); and created a twenty-foot-tall tepee from the leather used to upholster sofas. Some artists focus exclusively upon a narrow set of concerns but manage to find nuanced and varied expressions of them. Jungen, though formally creative, seems to be on intellectual autopilot.

Many of Jungen’s fastidiously tailored objects possess an iconic power, and for someone so dedicated to sculpture, he is a canny crafter of images. He has been credited with scrutinizing the inequitable balance of power between the traditional and the new, acknowledging the adaptive reuse of commercial goods by those subject to the influence of mass culture, and allegorizing the substitution of tribal ritual with the ceremonial competition of modern sports. Also apparent is Jungen’s desire to inscribe his objects with the additional value accorded the handmade, and that doing so with anonymously produced materials is for him a political gesture.

Brian Jungen, Blanket no. 4, 2008.
Brian Jungen, Blanket no. 4, 2008.

These themes were taken up once again in this show in six “blankets” made from disassembled professional football and basketball jerseys. Woven into patterns that riff on tribal-style designs, the color combinations of familiar teams could be recognized—the navy and orange of the Chicago Bears, for example—and, by looking closely at the garments’ labels, one could discern the uniforms used in others. Some feature a tessellating pattern of players’ numbers; others are more abstract. When Jungen embarked on this path ten years ago, it could be argued, consciousness of the truly global reach of western popular culture and consumer goods was less widespread. Now that he has created all the accoutrements necessary to outfit a First Nations tourist village, it seems time for Jungen to aim for more than juxtaposition.

Dragonfly, 2008, a red five-gallon plastic jerry can of the type used for holding gasoline, incised with a delicate pattern of dragonflies, underscores the point. Here again, the work alludes to larger forces and wider issues, among them the problem of gass huffing on reservations, and the simultaneously and ironic lack of easy access to gasoline on First Nations land, despite the rich oil reserves that lie beneath them. At present, Canada’s economy is in part buoyed by the oil sands beneath Alberta’s soil, and the race to lay claim to oil in the Arctic Circle has ensnared Russia, Norway, the United States, and Canada in a geopolitical turf war. Yet this topic, despite Jungen’s effort, remains ripe for critical investigation.

Al Taylor

Published in Artforum, April 2008. To learn more about and view images from the exhibition, click here.

Al Taylor’s recent exhibition at Zwirner & Wirth focused on the creative efflorescence that resulted from the late artist’s decision in 1984 to take a break from painting. The gallery presented a well-edited selection of three-dimensional “constructions” and works on paper made by Taylor between 1985 and 1990, for which the artist employed an improvisational process in an attempt to elide the borders between the two mediums. These wall-based constructions (Taylor disavowed the term sculpture) confront viewers with a diverse array of visual feints, bringing together humble materials to provide a workout for the eyes.

6 – 8 – 9, 1988, which features five irregularly painted black-and-white wooden rings attached to the top and bottom of a brass dowel that emerges from a wooden board affixed to the wall, provides a joyously destabilizing visual experience. This is due in part to the tangle of shadows that it projects onto the wall around it—an important feature of many of the constructions shown here—which combines with the hoops to bring to mind magicians’ linking rings or a cartoon-like psychedelic swirl. 6 – 8 – 9 implies movement, and indeed one prominent characteristic of Taylor’s arrangements is their arrested kineticism, as if each piece were but a provisional way station on the road from one form to another.

Al Taylor, 6 - 8 - 9, 1988.
Al Taylor, 6 - 8 - 9, 1988.

Cobbled together from recycled scraps that Taylor reclaimed from stage sets he had designed, or simply from detritus picked up off the streets of New York, these constructions replace the macho, torch-wielding hubris of David Smith’s “drawings in space” with something funkier, more intimate, almost libidinal. They are seriously seductive. Witness Layson a Stick, 1989, in which two jointed broomsticks, jutting out fro the wall, are draped with yellow and green plastic leis, or Untitled: (Bra), 1987, a composition assembled from wood, Formica, and painted broomsticks that looks more like a seatless stool seen from below, legs splayed. Both were accompanied in the exhibition by related drawings, which, contrary to expectation, were made after the sculptures; Taylor’s attempt to frustrate conventional sculptural thinking (he reported thought of his sculptures and drawings as aspects of the same project) was paired with an equally counterintuitive approach to his works on paper.

As is the case with many talented artists, Taylor was out of step with his moment. In the context of neo-expressionist and neo-geo painting, other artists’ practices driven by nascent forms of institutional critique, or any of the movements typically associated with the middle and late 1980s, Taylor’s haphazard formalism, his scrounged supplies, and his love of optical trickery must have seemed willfully anachronistic. But Taylor’s modus operandi now seems prescient: The works included in this show would dovetail nicely with those by younger artists in “Unmonumental,” the New Museum of Contemporary Art’s survey of recent assemblage, sculpture, and collage.

Two of the more rewarding constructions on view here served as bookends to the exhibition: Untitled (Latin Study), 1985, the first work one encountered upon entering the gallery, and Calligraphy Support, 1987–88, which hung in its final room. The former, several wooden slats mounted on particleboard projecting from the wall to create a three-dimensional spiral, and the latter, which looks like an elongated, rickety architectural model, both show that Taylor did not fully excise painting from his practice when he embarked upon this rewarding path. In Latin Study, applied washes of black and white enamel paint help give the work, from certain viewpoints, an artificial flatness. Something similar, but more complex, is achieved in Calligraphy Support, in which paint is applied to different sides of the work’s thin, vertically oriented wooden slats, such that moving from side to side creates an animated peek a boo effect, these dark slashes coalescing in ever-shifting compositions.

Sabine Hornig

Published in Artforum, March 2007.

A room on a stage is typically missing one side, the virtual “fourth wall” through which the audience peers; the rooms depicted in the photographs Sabine Hornig included in this show are, unexpectedly, absent two sides. In each of the photos on view, the street-facing window of a Berlin storefront (there are two images of one of these storefronts and a third of another) is presented at roughly two-thirds scale, the casement marking the edges of the otherwise unframed image. The second missing division is more unsettling. In two shots, the floor has been demolished; in the third, behind the small rectangular gaps in a metal roll gate, one discovers that the rear wall has been dismantled, giving onto a view of a courtyard.

All three pictures slot neatly into a practice that has seen Hornig exploit the peculiarities of visual perception—in particular the eye’s comprehension of reflectiveness and slight changes in scale—to blur the boundaries between architecture, sculpture, and photography. But whereas the quirks of Hornig’s earlier images could be accounted for through patient looking, here the interference between what one expects and what one encounters is a result of what was photographed, not how it was captured. Fenster ohne Boden (Window with No Floor) I and II (all works 2006), hung on perpendicular walls in an otherwise empty room, are also an essay in the passage of time. The gray northern daylight illuminating the first image’s composition gives way to a darker picture seemingly taken in the evning; likewise, the trees reflected in the window shed their foliage from one photograph to the next.

Two sculptures were situated in the gallery’s larger room. Blechhütte (Tin Hut) is a narrow steel box, slightly shorter than six feet tall. A rectangular steel armature extends from one open end, framing a truck-windshield-size panel of glass. It evokes, obliquely, a bus stop shelter, a form Hornig used more directly for a 2001 sculpture, Bus Stop, also exhibited at this gallery. Everything about the object is slightly off: The box is too small to enter; the glass panel, on which is printed a thin vertical slice of an image, is too large to function as a door; deep inside the structures lightless interior, a small triangular ledge might imply seating were it not for a similar piece wedged a few inches below the ceiling. Stifling functionality, Blechhütte seems instead to embody the oft-recited claim that “all art is quite useless.”

Sabine Hornig, Landscape, 2006.
Sabine Hornig, Landscape, 2006.

That particular line belongs to Oscar Wilde, who prefaced it by announcing, “The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.” Landscape, a five-panel steel-and-Plexiglas folding screen adorned with a photographic transparency depicting a landfill, is worthy of such admiration. It too repeals utility; the semitransparent image does not obstruct sight. Its ostensible message, reminding viewers of the proximity of luxury (the elegant folding screen) and waste, is banal when expressed didactically. Landscape, however, embodies its lesson in an interestingly literal manner. As one circumnavigates the sculpture, the panels—set at varying angles to one another—are reflected in the Plexiglas like phantom limbs. The object visually proliferates, and so does its image of waste. In this sparsely installed exhibition, more economical than Hornig’s previous three Bonakdar shows, one was tempted to view this lesson in relation to today’s art market, the many inessential objects it accommodates mere kindling on a pyre.