whitehot | June 2008, New Work by Martin Oppel at Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Miami
Titled “ Life s a Gas, I Hope It s Gonna Last” (from 1960’s Rock band ‘T-Rex’), Martin Oppel’s new show at Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Miami, continues this artists exploration of construction and it s increments and processes.
The show includes wood 2x4’s used for construction, partially constructed wall and house gable sections , (including one with a painting hanging on it), a couple of meticulously painted but banal landscape paintings, paintings on canvas used as painter’s palettes for the mixing of paint for the same landscape paintings, and a sampling of sculptures of concrete cinderblocks (fabricated by the artist)) seeming to tumble down upon themselves. The materials and the way they re assembled seem to beg reference to the term ‘de-constructivism’:
First meant as an antithesis to (Russian) Constructivism, and as a reaction to Classical and neoclassical order, and idealism, ‘Deconstructivism’ became by the early ‘80’s the name for an architectural style based on surprise, imbalance, incompleteness and disorder. Architectural theorist Peter Eisenman finally described the term as “originally conceptualized by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, as a method of inquiry, not a philosophy”.
And just as Oppel’s professes an interest in ‘the way things work’, ‘their science’ and ‘their magic’, his constructions , scattered carefully across the space, do seem to represent a method of inquiry that would appear to supercedes the significance of the objects and their specific properties.
The 3 warped 2x4’s lined up almost against the wall adjacent to the entry to the room, in a progression from a slight, to an acute, and then a bent –back-upon –itself third, seems to represent a shrill exaggeration that has rendered the original object absurdly useless in the context of it s supposed purpose: We know that wood warps but in construction a ‘true’ (straight) 2x4 is wanted.. So the 2 x 4 has (in 3 stages) been stretched to the limit of it s least desirable trait, and finally turned back upon itself in a kind of obsessive compulsive self destructive progression. Although the three 2x4’s are for sale individually they seem to read strongly as a single work
We next encounter the tumbling cascade of artist –made cinderblocks balanced in a frozen configuration that seems to belie their value as compressive structural units when neatly stacked one atop another. And again the opposite of their primary function is the feature here: instead of working together to resist the compressive weight of a roof structure and each other, the tumbling blocks anarchically ‘dis’construct’ and can no longer even stabilize their own individual weight.
But where the 3- 2x4’s seemed to represent a progression (like the three stages of grief or something), the cluster of three cinderblock sculptures don t particularly re inforce each other, reading more as variations on a theme or just inventory.
That said the show does for the most part maintain a careful sparseness that encourages the viewer to examine it s elements; This is true of the paintings hung on peripheral walls and in one case hung on a freestanding framed-up wall section.
Turns out that this painting is a stretched canvas of the palette used to mix the colors for some of the other paintings, and that a couple of the landscape paintings also have splotches of color mixed directly on the surface of the picture itself; which appear like healing sores on the skin of otherwise ordinary images of detached , rather saccharine views of leafy vistas. They look more printed than painted.
So just as the 2 x 4’s are rendered useless by warping so the paintings somehow seem to negate the value of painting in general and figuration in particular; or at least to suggest that the process (of the palette) is as significant (and certainly less banal) than the end result of a representation of nature as ‘something pretty’.
Although this exhibition is not without contradictions, the deconstructivist vocabulary does serve up a stronger message than mere surprise.
Materials bent beyond usefulness, and landscape pictures that denounce nature’s purpose by representing it as a facile decorative motif for human consumption, seem an ironic reflection of the upside down self destructive aspects of our current situation.
The seductively tranquil lyricism of this work seems ultimately as reassuring as the platitudes of much of the corporate /government hierarchy.
Here we are with consumers in SUV’s lined up outside of fast food joints and ATM machines, burning up the ozone and their savings , trapped in the pretence that they re saving time and money, or with few other options on how to go about their daily lives. Or a system that renders staple foods too expensive for poor populations under the pretext of creating ‘green’ biofuel for car drivers in rich countries. And you have to ask if this kind of message bleeds through in the contemporary art industry, or if art’s message is instead, all too often bent back upon itself to serve as a vehicle of investment or status. If so, this seems an apt process of inquiry.
And a google of the much-bandied term ‘deconstructivist ‘ reveals some useful info:
One ‘AJ’ defines Deconstructivism as “ The process through which a subject being examined appears to shift and complicate in meaning when read in the light of the assumptions and absences it reveals within itself.”
Another definition, relating to Deconstructivist Architecture refers to ‘distorting volumes and recombining them according to the principles of disruption and dislocation…characterized by a stimulating unpredictability and a controlled chaos.
Since the above is nearly a parallel definition of Mannerism ,a style we ve seen rather too much of lately, let s consider that ‘Deconstructivism ‘ is a method of inquiry, not a philosiphy (or style in this case).. that emerged out of disenchantment with the idealism of the Enlightenment’.(Eisenman)
Because Derrida s term became associated with architecture early on, and because we re confronted with elements of construction here, we can scarcely ignore the references to deconstructivist thinking and process.
As to what the distortion, unpredictability, shifts due to absences reveal, here lets look further:
distorting volumes and recombining them according to principles of disruption and dislocation. The finished visual appearance of buildings that exhibit the many deconstructivist "styles" is characterised by a stimulating unpredictability and a controlled chaos.
As originally conceptualized by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, Deconstruction is a method of inquiry, not a philosophy in and of itself. Derrida’s process emerged out of disenchantment with the idealist legacy of the Enlightenment. He sought to expose the ambiguity of language that in turn led to the loss of meaning in all levels of social interaction.Eisenmann
’The process through which a subject(texts, language and structure, ) being examined appears to shift and complicate in meaning when read in the light of the assumptions and absences it reveals within itself..’
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief