In her reviews of recent art fairs, Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City gave out “awards” to booths and artists on display, denoting both highlights and lowlights. Of my favorites, and ubiquitous to the contemporary art fair is the “Object Most Resembling Contemporary Art.” This negative interpretation can be attributed to the nature of the environs, which don’t exactly encourage deeply thoughtful critical reflection, often negating any sense of context or allowing favorable conditions for display.
With that in mind I couldn’t help thinking of Johnson’s award when I visited Yvon Lambert’s current group exhibition, Espéces d’Espace. One would like to think that artworks fare better presented in a gallery than an art fair booth, but sometimes no degree of formality can save them. Ostensibly predicated on an increased awareness of the space in which objects exist and the implications of space for the work of art and it’s display, the exhibition seems more like an opportunity to show otherwise unrelated new work by gallery artists. And some of it is a joy to see: a gorgeous new Jenny Holzer (but why not just go to the Whitney?), a mystifying drawing by Roni Horn (coming soon to the Whitney), a Jill Magid text-based work on paper exploring intimacy (no Whitney show that I know of–she seems more like a Guggenheim type).
But much of the work seems to compete for the Object Most Resembling Contemporary Art award. The competition is tough: a (carefully) fractured mirror would be too obvious a choice however. Zilvinas Kempinas is represented by Double O, 2008; two industrial fans face off, whipping magnetic tapes in wild oscillations. I suppose some viewers might be hypnotized by the self-cancelling airstreams and spinning black lines of tape, but the effect never rises above 7th grade science fair oohs and awes, perhaps relying too much on Olafur Eliasson-like natural world wonder but without any sense of the viewer’s alterity.
Worse, in my mind, was Bethan Huws’s contributions. Like many “contemporary artists,” Huws mines the legacy of Duchamp. The first work Nu Descendant un Escalier, 2004 spells out the title in movable type underneath a commercial signage display, the text wending its way downward in a misconceived moment of concrete poetic inspiration. Across the main gallery Huws’s Tour, 2007, takes Duchamp’s first unmodified readymade, Bottle Rack, 1914, and goes all Dan Flavin/Bruce Nauman: recreating said bottle rack in white neon. Is there a handbook for artists that says “take reference to Duchamp, add reference to Minimalism, pour over ice”? Combining Flavin’s phenomenological response to commercial lighting, Nauman’s linguistic puns with the title “Tour” (Tower), and Duchamp’s early work certainly shows that the artist can fluently parse Artforum, but does it add up to any more than that?