Lisson Gallery, 52-54 Bell Street, London, UK,
30 Dec 2009
Lisson 7, curated by Cory Arcangel
Title : Installation view, Lisson Gallery
Credit : Courtesy Lisson Gallery
Review by Henry Little
Coolly detached and cerebrally decorative is possibly a good summation of Lisson Presents 7. The gallery’s ethos has long been premised upon a commitment to works with a conceptual foundation and this show is of course no exception. Marked consideration does, however, seem to have been given to visually intriguing works, or dare I say it, even beautiful works in some cases.
For the 7th instalment of Lisson Presents New York based artist Cory Arcangel was invited to pick works from the past 40 years of the gallery’s existence, providing a highly subjective selection of pieces alongside a cohesive body of work by the artist himself. One of Arcangel’s more striking works was his intervention in Frieze 2008; allotted space as part of Frieze Projects the artist decided to bestow good fortune upon one lucky rejectee of the gallery selection process. In emulation of the Wonka story he hid a golden ticket in chocolate bars which were dispatched to those galleries whose application had been unsuccessful. Studiò di Giovanna Simonetta were the lucky children plucked for inclusion and duly assumed their spot. Such an interventionist approach is congruent with the more thought provoking of his works included in Lisson Presents 7, among which is Untitled Translation Exercise (2006). For this work Arcangel appropriated that heady foray into sweaty, drunken American adolescence Dazed and Confused (1993) and altered the original film by hiring an Indian outsource firm to create a dubbed version. The dialogue throughout remains in English but the strong Indian accents present a startling culture clash between the sonic and the visual. The effect when viewing is jarring to say the least and the work seems to trade upon the perceived stereotypes attached to both nations; the diligence and sobriety of Indian culture contrasted with the unruly disaffection of the Americans. The colloquialism and syntax of the Texan teens also imparts considerable difficulty for the Indian dubbers. This has the effect of highlighting the fact that American youth has a language all of its own, which is far removed from that of the studiously learnt and grammatically correct Indian English.
It was similarly Arcangel’s other works which continued to impress and most notably two pieces from his ongoing Photoshop Gradient Demonstrations series (2008-). Off-spring of computer programming, they are verbosely titled: Photoshop CS: 84 x 66 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient “Spectrum”, mouse down y=12550 x=9850, mouse up y=12550 x=195000 is one example. These titles are taken from the direct instructions that dictate the creation of an image using the Photoshop gradient tool. By establishing a parameter, in this case a starting point in the colour spectrum, the program automatically creates an image which Arcangel has transferred from screen fiction to physical reality. The resultant prints are staunchly appealing as the lurid computer colour spectrum glows mechanically from beneath its plexiglass sheathing.
The last of Arcangel’s works, Personal Film (2008), resumes his interest in film and thwarts the viewing experience in a different manner: constructed of ‘damaged’ film stock there is no content beyond the aesthetic appeal of the compromised slides. The work therefore takes this medium of narrative and representation to project what is essentially a succession of abstracted and inconsequential images. It then forms, as it were, a piece of abstract cinematography.
The roster of artists accompanying Arcangel’s work reads as follows: John Armleder, Art and Language, Daniel Buren, Richard Deacon, Ceal Floyer, Dan Graham, Rodney Graham, Jenny Holzer and Stephen Willats. The problem that arises with this selection may lie in the artist’s curation process which the press release describes thus: ‘the works are connected by a system of loose associations, reflected in formal and whimsical relations: the choices made are simultaneously well informed and spontaneous, avoiding the obvious path for one that feels instinctively right’. Having seen the exhibition this feels too closely like a veil that should more correctly read as ‘the artist picked a bunch of stuff to fill out the exhibition that more or less has some vague connection’. Taken individually (and I will go through some of them shortly) many of the works are of noteworthy interest but it is, however, their juxtaposition which fails to match their individual merit. Deacon’s decorative ceramic Drift (2002), for example, seeming an odd inclusion next to Armleder’s Untitled (Ref No 6) (1986), comprised of a chest of drawers and two enamel dot paintings. In addition, it is hard for the viewer to experience the same psychological circumstances whereby the connection between these works feels ‘instinctively’ right, often leaving you wondering at the reason why these works were put together.
Stripes seem to feature in a number of works. Ceal Floyer’s Wall (2002) is a disruption of the traditional meaning of black and yellow hazard tape: arranged diagonally and densely across the surface of one side of the gallery the coloured lines of the tape become horizontally aligned. Like Arcangel’s Personal Film this work replaces the original meaning (a warning) with a new one (a decoration). Around the corner is Buren’s Zigzag for Two Colours (paprika and violet) (2007); composed of diagonal, alternating rising and falling surfaces in the two colours of the title this sculptural form invades the gallery space from the wall. With a controlled and compact formal arsenal, composed of his signature stripes of fixed width and alternating bands of white and colour, the artist explores the possibilities within closed parameters, thereby attempting to establish the production of meaning within these chosen parameters.
It is Arcangel’s work that validates this show and makes it worth the visit. Whilst much of the remainder retains a sincerity of purpose or a formality of investigation I couldn’t help but stand in front it, as I did with Floyer’s Wall, and ask ‘so what?’ Much of it simply seems too coldly formal or too dryly composed to fire the imagination or indeed the intellect, that is to say, apart from Arcangel’s which manages to combine a visual sophistication with a cerebral one.
The writer is a gallerist (www.hrlcontemporary.com) and fine art consultant to the London School of Economics.