Before The Law: Cristóbal Lehyt at Johannes Vogt
Cristóbal Lehyt: “Given A Wall, What’s Happening Behind It?” at Johannes Vogt Gallery
April 9 to April 29, 2016
55 Chrystie Street, Suite 202
New York City, (212) 266-6966
Entering Johannes Vogt Gallery’s new Lower East Side space, you hesitate at the threshold for a moment. It looks like the installation of a show is still in progress. However, it is Cristóbal Lehyt’s third solo exhibition with the gallery, “Given a Wall, What’s Happening Behind It?,” and it is open for visitors. The majority of the work, a series of paintings executed on four foot square Plexiglas sheets, rests on the bare and warped plywood floor. The protective paper has not been removed from the Plexiglas, and limited areas of each piece have been taped off and painted a solid color, always leaving some of the wrapping visible. These areas feature images culled from Lehyt’s “Drama Projection” body of work, depicting people drawn from life during what he has described as a “semi-trance” or “trance/non-trance” state. Lehyt has drawn the figures by dripping threads of paint the same color as the background, then revealed these drawings by frottage (a rubbing technique for transferring textured surfaces), with the raised paint of the drawing darkening as it takes on more of the rubbed material.
The title of the show, which is also the subject of its single text piece, is a question that Jean Tardieu asked Chilean poet Juan Luis Martinez in an interview. The answer, “There are other men building another wall in front of which you are asking: GIVEN A WALL, WHAT’S HAPPENING BEHIND IT?” suggests that the question is infinitely regressive: surely each wall is covering another series of walls with people wondering what is behind the last wall. The quote recalls the ending to Franz Kafka’s parable “Before the Law” in which a man travels to gain access to a mysterious door only to be told by the guard, after years of waiting, that he will never be let through, and even if he did there are only more doors with more guards beyond. Both writers are highlighting a modern problem: the futile pursuit of questions when the answer are more questions. While this is an interesting subject, it is hard to not wonder if the artist is only asking us to leave unquestioned the banality of his automatic drawing process.
The themes of Lehyt’s show are the functions of protection and revelation through the artist’s process. The wrapping paper protects the Plexiglas (by making it useless) but increases its visibility and makes it more hardy for transport. There is even a stack of paintings, meant to be flipped through like a crate of LPs, that protect each other and reveal a couple of virgin sheets of Plexiglas, unused, unwrapped, and undistressed. The frottage process harnesses and mimics the primordial revealing power of dirt, in which grime often heightens definition. The artist replicates the frottage twice on a wall of the gallery to beguiling effect: the images seem to float from the ether of the cool white walls. While the paintings don’t advertise themselves as process-based, their rich and fecund material presence speaks loudest. The material also successfully reflects and reveals the rough-hewn nature of the new gallery and its new neighborhood.