Friday, April 9th, 2010

Liam Gillick at Casey Kaplan Gallery

February 18 – March 27, 2010
525 West 21st Street, between 9th and 10th avenues,
New York City, 212 645 7335

installation shots of the exhibition under review. All images courtesy Casey Kaplan Gallery.
installation shots of the exhibition under review. All images courtesy Casey Kaplan Gallery.

Gillick animates the space in his recent show at Case Kaplan Gallery with colorful aluminum benches he calls “Discussion Bench Platforms” and with sixteen unique, inkjet prints which juxtapose traces of a verbal narrative with early woodcut imagery. A video in the back room, Everything Good Goes, shows the artist working on a 3D rendering of a building, which is understood to be the factory from the film Tout va Bien (Jean-Luc Godard, 1972); the soundtrack is a phone conversation between the artist and the Fly collective, elaborating on the challenges of representing Gillick’s process of building the 3D computer model of the factory. This is information one can only learn from the press release. Gillick’s show is cerebrally engaging and visually interesting, but the visual and cerebral components are inherently disjointed, never coming together to form a layered experience.

The Discussion Bench Platforms are reminiscent of Gillick’s red benches in the show last year at Parsons, Democracy in the Age of Branding, curated by Carin Kuoni. In that multidisciplinary show, Gillick’s benches were meaningful  and integral as they fostered discussions about surrounding works. The very concept of having benches in a gallery space where discussions and interactions could take place was significant. The benches were circular, creating a small, utopian space where “democracy” in a large sense of the word was represented and furthered.  Discussion Bench Platforms are not activated in the same manner. In the comparatively limited, sterile space of Casey Kaplan gallery (Parsons’ gallery has a window opening to 13th street, which was designed to create a more open, inviting environment ) the rectangular benches face the walls of the gallery. Thus, the benches function more as a place to take a break and view the drawings, rather than become platforms of discussion.

Liam Gillick, A Volvo Bar III, 2010. Inkjet print, 45 x 30 inches.
Liam Gillick, A Volvo Bar III, 2010. Inkjet print, 45 x 30 inches.

The graphic works are by far the most striking element in the show. With imagery appropriated from German renaissance woodcuts and ironically juxtaposed with contemporary dialog between a barkeeper and a customer, these establish a striking contrast to the aluminum benches, emphasizing the constructed nature of the situation that Gillick sets up in the gallery space. The tension between the form, in a printed, poster format, combined with words that are dissociated from the images, engages the viewer aesthetically and conceptually. The narrative is derived from Gillick’s play, A Volvo Bar and each image/text functions on its own, pointing to Gillick’s constructed world, in which he creates incongruities using time and space. The viewer, drawn into the work, can then produce a variety of meanings from this simple yet poignant body of prints, realizing the show’s premise of triggering thought and discussion.

The video, projected on to a wall in a connected section of the gallery is quite unwelcoming. The idea of becoming an accomplice to an artist, through seeing a quasi-document of the workings and makings of a thought, has potential, but the extremely dense recorded phone- conversation soundtrack frustrates engagement. The disparity between the sound and the visual components of the video works against the content that could be more accessible to the viewer. While the tension in the visual language of the drawings is poignant yet elegantly subtle, the video is incoherent and esoteric, preventing the viewer from interacting with and interpreting the work.

Gillick’s show of three such different bodies of work fails to achieve the kind of organized chaos that could trigger the viewers to discuss vehemently  and is impermeable through the very cerebral experience that it tries to engender. Sometimes, simpler is better.