Objects Most Resembling Contemporary Art

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.

Bethan Huws: Tour, 2007

Bethan Huws: Tour, 2007

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.

Zilvinas Kempinas: Double O, 2008

Zilvinas Kempinas: Double O, 2008

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?

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4 Responses to “Objects Most Resembling Contemporary Art”

  1. Diesel Says:

    I like your blog Mr. Taylor, I have been reading it sneakily… You might give Phil the Power a run for his money in darts…

  2. mike Says:

    the “(carefully) cracked mirror” is a hand cut plate of stainless steel, polished to a mirror finish, it is not a cracked mirror at all, it simply looks like one.

  3. the power Says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Mike. But, whether or not the piece is actually a mirror or a simulacrum of a mirror doesn’t change my assertion that “in The Meantime,” 2007 potentially plays with a clichéd postmodern metaphor—thus my suggestion that it would be too obvious of a choice for an “Object Most Resembling…” award. Nonetheless, areas of cliché in representation provide fertile ground for artistic creation.

    I actually really like how the mirror piece works in that room. There is a very nice echo with the Jonathan Monk floor piece, which already engages in a dialogue of dislocation with its pair in the front gallery. And the Ian Wallace’s across the way become devilishly undermined in the fractured “polished” steel. Conceptually it also resonates well with Horn’s career-long engagement with drawing and (ambiguity in) identity, and I suppose also with Liam Gillick’s minimalist forms that are ostensibly about neo-liberal, Post-Fordist economic abstractions, or something. So it is a tightly curated sub-gallery.

  4. mattybyloos Says:

    Just found your blog today and will be adding it to my list of regular reads. I added you to my blogroll, too, if you take a look and care to exchange. Now back to work…

    And as to the post, hasn’t a terrific majority of contemporary art turned into the formulaic “take reference to an artwork or artist whom i greatly admire, add in dose of minimal interpretation, present for sale”?

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