The King And The Corpse
March 22 - May 5, 2018
Greene Naftali Gallery
By MARK BLOCH, May, 2018
A guy probably attempts to live inside a discarded washing machine on the streets of Calcutta. In this country we put readymade metal buildings inside of other buildings. The big tin shack at Greene Naftali Gallery is actually “porcelain enameled steel panels, steel, bolts, screws, wood, and c-clamps” and inspired by the spaces between Donald Judds. Had this structure been built on the streets of Calcutta or even New York, it might have worked as both housing and art.
But this “found” object, bigger than many houses in the suburbs, is apparently content just providing the utilitarian task of being disorienting. It. is the opposite of what concrete art and Musique Concrète did in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. They drew us from art into every day life and from every day life into art. With a name like The King And The Corpse this must take its place among the world’s readymades, the reference to Duchamp not withstanding, more corpse than king.
Gedi Sibony separates art from everyday life instead of bringing them together and even separates us even from everyday life more than we already are. It leaves us hovering in a post-art, post-abstract world having nothing to do with anything. Is this desirable? Even the anomalies that might provide its beauty—scuffs, smudges, indentations, little pieces of tape—seem to resemble real life but do not quite inhabit it. Yet they are not an illusion, not the result of an artist’s slight of hand. Maybe. For Sibony, even discarded materials from previous exhibits by other artists in a space can become the material of his new one. Fair enough. That idea merges art and life. But creating or importing an immense structure that would make a good house for a bunch of homeless people into a gallery to “fill it” with emptiness leaves me feeling empty and I wonder if this is the desired effect. I contemplate whether homeless people could set up shop here without being embarrassed that their homeless friends might laugh at them for engaging with such societal hubris.
As I looked across the gallery through one of the empty spaces, the readymade created a matrix of monochromatic shapes: blacks and dark grays with whites created by what is not there, filled in by the stark white gallery walls. Two columns belonging to the gallery’s structure dominated the center of the readymade, tethered at regular intervals to Sibony’s construction—tightly. A vast object has been shackled, adhered, solidified, tamed. The gallery now is married to this colossus, fully committed. Any once-rickety status of this titanic object now appears clamped into place like a circus tent bonded not just to pillars but also to local safety regulations. But with the circus and its attendant carneys disappeared, the only way out of this void is through our inner carnival barkers, to whip us into a frenzy, promoting the scratched and dinged up behemoth with stoic indifference.
I am told or I imagine that the work of Rachel Harrison who also shows at this gallery, Richard Tuttle, Gordon Matta-Clark, John Bock, Chris Burden, Vito Acconci, Arte Povera and a list of things to purchase at Home Depot could all be part of the same family tree but each is packed with content in comparison.
At the same time, this exhibit seems even cluttered compared to Yves Klein's 1958 exhibition The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility: The Void, the immaterial exhibition that removed everything except a large cabinet from the white gallery with the aura of his presence as artwork enough.
Robert Barry's Closed Gallery Piece, exhibited from 1969 to 1970 at galleries in Los Angeles, Amsterdam and Turin, extended that legacy completely void of physical content, by rendering it inaccessible with its announcement “During the exhibition, the gallery will be closed.”
Also in Los Angeles in 1970, the invitation to a Robert Irwin exhibition explained, "The gallery (...) will be empty for a period of 1 month (October), for Robert Irwin to visit the space daily to conceive the different possibilities of artworks for the space."
Somewhere between an appreciation of Minimalist conceits or the materials of Arte Povera and Irwin’s speculative possibilities is the potential for a serious regard of this show. I see the slickness and the roughness; I see the fragmentation as well as the whole; I see high contrast set against a perception of neutral colors.
The work’s function is to “rearrange the space,” the artist said. But in adjoining rooms are three additional, somewhat traditional works. In one, colorful wood shapes attached together like a George Herms assemblage, green, blue and red are either flat or a three dimensional box. In another, crumpled venetian blinds hanging from the ceiling with (almost) parallel lines (almost) divide the room’s space. Finally, there is another tip of the hat to Duchamp, this time to his Why Not Sneeze?, his bird cage containing a cuttlefish bone and sugar cubes made out of marble, a thermometer and other objects, in which no bird was able to live. Gibony’s flattened bird cage also will not allow it, just like Duchamp’s but for different reasons, just as the larger work in the main gallery could provide the domicile for several homeless people but doesn’t.
It is as if a post-retirement Maytag repairman turned to an MFA for what ailed him but not society’s needs and this is the result. In a culture in need of art that might provide a clean slate, we are left with only an apparition of Minimalism. Maybe a clean slate is too much to expect. Yet, had this structure been built just a few hundred feet to the east, in the gallery’s open courtyard, at least it might have worked as both housing and art. WM
Mark Bloch is a writer, performer, videographer and multi-media artist living in Manhattan. In 1978, this native Ohioan founded the Post(al) Art Network a.k.a. PAN. NYU's Downtown Collection now houses an archive of many of Bloch's papers including a vast collection of mail art and related ephemera. For three decades Bloch has done performance art in the USA and internationally. In addition to his work as a writer and fine artist, he has also worked as a graphic designer for ABCNews.com, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and elsewhere. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and PO Box 1500 NYC 10009.
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