Monday, May 4th, 2009

Adel Abdessemed at David Zwirner Gallery

April 3 to May 9, 2009
519, 525 and 533 West 19th Street (between 10th and 11th avenues)
New York City, 212 727 2070

Adel Abdessemed Telle mère tel fils 2008. Airplanes, felt, aluminum, metal, 88.6 x 13.12 x 16.4 feet. Cover MAY 2009 (detail) The sea 2009. Video on monitor, 10 sec (loop), color, sound. Courtesy David Zwirner

Adel Abdessemed Telle mère tel fils 2008. Airplanes, felt, aluminum, metal, 88.6 x 13.12 x 16.4 feet. Courtesy David Zwirner

Adel Abdessemed’s first solo show in New York uses all three gallery spaces of David Zwirner Gallery, creating a fragmented experience. The different pieces in the show never truly coalesce to generate meaning while the intensity and immediacy of the pieces vary so dramatically that the viewer eventually becomes disengaged.

The monumental sculpture Telle mèr tel fils (2008) is a braid of three airplanes and measures sixty-five feet, taking over one of the gallery spaces. The cockpits and tailfins are originals, while the fuselages are reconstructed from felt and air. The tension between the metal body of the plane and the felt, combined with the seemingly malleable body of the vast vehicles is poignant; the artist plays with the form of the plane to defamiliarize and destabilize the viewer. The sculpture subverts the Duchampian readymade as the braided planes do not belong to the space both in size and function and yet the planes are the medium that the artist uses to create a new, alien form.

The artist mobilizes the space with the overbearing presence of the planes and it is the inherent spectacular nature of the work that draws the viewer in. He plays with ideas of destruction/construction/reconstruction in a playful, infantile way that thrills the viewer. It is precisely for this reason that the association with Joseph Beuys becomes problematic. It is impossible to look at felt used in making an airplane without thinking about the origin myth that Beuys created for himself. Abdessemed’s art historical references throughout the show and in particular this one, are unnecessary and somewhat irrelevant as the pieces depend on a more immediate reaction from the viewer. The title of the work, translated as “like mother like son”, also fails to take on meaning and becomes a confusing reference to the common phrase “like father like son”, which is a linguistic reversal that has no real bearing on the work.

The extraneous references to art history take on a more visual role in the most recent piece of the show, The Sea (2009). In this looped video segment, the artist is balancing on a slab of wood on what seems to be the open ocean, writing the words “politically correct”. The futile action of trying to write while balancing on water becomes comical yet meaningful as the viewer is able to appreciate Abdessemed’s self-critical perspective. However, the visual language used is too heavily borrowed from the Raft of the Medusa (1818-19), acquainting the artist’s work with a medium and formal vocabulary that diminishes the work rather than the legitimizing the work, which is what  the artist seems to be aiming for.

Abdessemed’s show is an exhilarating introduction to his work as the artist’s “acts” (as he calls his works) have a truly visceral resonance for every viewer. Yet, the show suffers from the ubiquitous interests of the artist, his “fascination with the world” as he himself identifies it. Although Abdessemed’s investment with any and every thing in the world does lead to instances of immediate and powerful experience, the loose curation and the overt references take away from what could be an encompassing experience. Abdessemed’s work does not need the pedantic embellishments nor does the show require as many pieces and spaces. One yearns for the initial phases of this work before it got to where it did.