“Utopian in Nature”: A group show at 601Artspace
You Stand on the Ground Floor, group exhibition curated by Jesse Penridge and Harriet Salmon, at 601Artspace
Artists: Sarah Braman, Maurizio Cattelan, Olafur Eliasson, Luigi Ghirri, Barbara Kasten, Christian Marclay, Adrian Meraz, Abelardo Morell, Heather Rowe, Jean-Pierre Roy, Hiraki Sawa, Superstudio, Jeff Wall, and Louise & Jane Wilson
June 15 to July 31, 2018
88 Eldridge Street, between Hester and Grand streets
New York CIty, /601artspace.org
Many works in this summer group show at 601Artspace deal with distortion. Upon entering the gallery, circular mirrors in Christian Marclay’s Feedback (1994) reflect visitors in endless repetition. Mirrors appear again in Heather Rowe’s mixed media sculpture, The Entity (Red Mirror) (2017). With other artists, mirrors play a part in images construction. In a work titled Niagara o l’architettua riflessa (Niagara or the Reflected Architecture) (1970), the collective Superstudio depicts that natural landmark walled-in by a reflection of the sky, placing clouds parallel with the cascading water. Alberado Morrell inverts the city in Camera Obscura: Manhattan View Looking West in an Empty Room (1996). “You Stand on the Ground Floor,” curated by Jesse Penridge and artist Harriet Salmon, variously confuse, intrigue, and invite us in through acts of re-imagining. Turning familiar objects and places on their head (sometimes literally), the artists in this group show ask why t“impossible architectures” are indeed impossible. The viewer sometimes slips into a work by catching a glimpse of herself, or by self-projection into the setting of an image, blurring boundaries between artist and viewer, artwork and life beyond the gallery walls.
The curators artfully exploit the space to orchestrate conversations between works. A set of photographs in the main room is a good example of this. Luigi Ghirri’s Parigi (1978) is an intimately-sized image of a greenhouse taken through a window, a bleary view reminiscent of rubbing sleep from one’s eyes in the morning, as vestiges of dream slip into the pool of sheets. Across the gallery, Louise & Jane Wilson’s much larger Biville (2006) gives off an apocalyptic rather than nostalgic vibe: the low angle, black and white photograph features a large, industrial object partially sunk into sand in an abandoned landscape, resulting in an unsettling picture that is nonetheless slick enough for the set of Star Wars or the pages of Vogue.
The final room of the show features a projected video and a light installation. To the right, Olafur Eliasson’s toxic-feeling Yellow Double Hung Windows (1999) creates the illusion of such convincing depth that you wouldn’t be surprised if someone passed through the light-turned-building at any moment. On the left wall is a projection of Hiraki Sawa’s Dwelling (2002). In this charming nine-minute video, toy planes take off and land throughout a furnished but uninhabited house. It is child’s play come to life; a hypnotic, domestic fleet that exists in a fantasy somewhere between the actuality of nap time and a post-human future.
The gallery’s press release describes the artworks as “constructions born from the attempt to make the visions in our head external,” often “utopian in nature,” though with the potential to be adapted by viewers into narratives and meanings that verge on the dystopian. Has, in fact, the sky fallen in Superstudio’s image, rather than being some convergence of heaven and Earth? Have viewers gotten some version of themselves stuck in the universe of Marclay’s mirrors?
Through juxtaposition, Salmon and Penridge deftly suggest a darker narrative than the airy and playful works they’ve assembled might individually intend – especially with the help of that chemical glow in Eliasson’s installation. But to me the exhibition still manages to read as a funhouse of intersections where tender memories of the past and radical visions of the future can touch, ignoring the reality of the present. If this is the ground floor, as the show’s title implies, the elevator is going up.