Whitehot Magazine

Two exhibitions on New York's LES

Phillip Birch, Substance Becoming Subject, Acrylic, PLA, silicone, nylon, enamel, 7.5 x 7.5 x 64 inches, Unique,
courtesy Lyles and King, New York, NY

Phillip Birch, The Notion Remains Impalpable to the Touch, Acrylic, PLA, silicone, nylon, enamel 2
4 x 10 x 65 inches, Unique, courtesy Lyles and King, New York, NY 

Phillip Birch, Master Dynamic: Frontier, Installation View, Lyles and King, New York, NY 

Raphael Taylor, Armstrong suprafine topology/CS-B, 2015, Galvanized steel and galvanized t-grid suspension system, Dimensions vary
Photo courtesy of Louis B. James

Raphael Taylor, Armstrong suprafine topology/CS-B, 2015, Galvanized steel and galvanized t-grid suspension system, Dimensions vary 
Photo courtesy of Louis B. James


Two exhibitions on New York's LES:

Raphael Taylor at Louis B. James

Phillip Birch at Lyles and King


On Orchard Street there's little distinction between a wall and a storefront. Like advertising signage, everything signifies and nothing is really present. It’s here that a gallery designated by a pseudonymous owner, Louis B. James, exhibited for about a month a single work by Brooklyn-based Raphael Taylor.

The show’s press release was on point: “Fashioned out of galvanized steel, this work's topological form is an iteration of a typical, commercially available suspended ceiling system. Like the manufactured ceiling itself, the sculpture features a parallel grid that spans the room from wall to wall.” Structured below the original ceiling, "CS-B" made the gallery’s lower-level, basement-like space even more compacted than it would normally appear. In many respects, it reminded me of standing on a subway platform. Apart from fluorescent lighting fixtures there was nothing to see, only the corporatized patterning of embossed squares on a ceiling. 

Taylor’s work seemed to literalize the Lippardian phrase "dematerialization of the object.” But what made the exhibition contemporary was the sense of mediation that pervaded it. Using a single, machinic gesture—square lines cutting into galvanized steel at right angles—he recreated a semi-public zone as frighteningly oppressive as a corporate office.

"CS-B" was more design-like than anything else. It made you look up, but this aspect didn’t fall in line with any adverbial descriptions of height, having instead a suffocating effect. This wasn’t conceptualism, but a disclaimer on the impossibility of making work. The translation of a relatively private space into something public lent the show (which closed Nov. 29) the overtones of a privately owned public space. Such spaces abound in NYC—Zuccotti Park being just one memorable example.

In its deliberate repression of objects, "CS-B" shared decided affinities with Phillip Birch’s show, “Master Dynamic: Frontier,” which is exhibiting at Lyles & King (through Dec. 20). This show also has a deliberately corporate ambience about it. Only here the gallery becomes the simulacrum of a laboratory, where the body itself is an unrealized object.

"What is there? What is going on?" as Fairfield Porter might have asked. Birch shows us a body deprived of references, where the affective sensation of its organs—and by extension its own organicity, the mereological structure that localizes parts relative to the whole—is deprived of any spatial locus. Everything is arranged to resemble the way corporations might overtake the physicality of the body, by reducing it to an idea and then privatizing that idea. Prosthetic heads, advertisement-like video pieces, titles borrowed from Hegel (“Substance Becoming Subject,” etc.)—all of this takes on the stylized aspect of subjectivity dissolving into a branded universal, using digitally-inspired sculpture to this end.

Whereas Taylor’s show could be said to literalize the “dematerialization of the object,” Birch’s show concretizes the scientific intentionality of “the experimental.” With his overt use of video, the body, and objectivity itself, becomes something implied, something only half-realized, like film projected onto a day-lit wall. We’re left with a world full not so much of things or even representations of things, but ideas as commodities.

Both shows indicate modes of creation that are utterly contemporary, not merely regional. They collapse the divide between creation and innovation, simultaneously responding to and putting into question sculpture’s place relative to the business-model aesthetic imposed by digital mediation generally (hashtag: “the Internet"). The fact that they’re showing in New York has a particular resonance, as more and more artists encounter here a lack of any real space to develop works that correspond with new lifestyles. The artistry of Taylor and Birch asks to be known and studied similar to the way we examine archives or feats of engineering; and we should attend especially to how the artifacts they construct feel estranged from the "objectivity" of experience. WM



Jeffrey Grunthaner

Jeffrey Grunthaner is an artist & writer currently based in Berlin. Essays, articles, poems, and reviews have appeared via BOMB, artnet NewsThe Brooklyn RailAmerican Art CataloguesHyperallergic, Heavy Feather Review, Arcade Project, Folder, Drag City Books, and other venues. He's the author of the poetry pamphlet, Aphid Poems (The Creative Writing Department, 2022), and the full-length poetry collection Paracelsus' Trouble With Sundays (Posthuman Magazine, 2023, with art by Kenji Siratori). Some recent curatorial projects include the reading and discussion series Conversations in Contemporary Poetics at Hauser & Wirth (NY), Sun Oil for Open White Gallery (Berlin), and FEELINGS for synthesis gallery (Berlin). 

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