Monday, February 25, 2013

Alexandre Singh—Content, Sublimated

Alexandre Singh, Assembly Instructions (The Pledge- Marc-Olivier Wahler), 2011. 
Framed inkjet ultrachrome archival prints and dotted pencil lines, 21" x 30", 
#21 from a set of 43. Courtesy Sprueth Magers: Berlin and
London; Art: Concept: Paris; Metro Pictures: New York; Monitor Gallery: Rome.
Alexandre Singh's The Pledge, at the Drawing Center through March 13, is a sprawling octopus of a show that includes "Assembly Instructions" (or "proxy portraits") of seven "pledges" from different fields. Singh interviewed his subjects on various esoteric topics, fictionalized the interviews, created associative drawings or appropriated imagery, xeroxed them and framed them in Ikea's finest, and hung them, connected by dots.

Don't follow? Well, therein lies a significant problem with this elegant looking show. It's so mediated and multi-layered that by the time the viewer's eyes meet the art, the content is so far removed that it's essentially out of reach. Conceptual art can be rewarding, but if it's this distant from whatever it's trying to say, it's frustrating. Additionally, he uses jargon to explain the project (see all those words in quotes above), which only obfuscates things more. The pledges include people like filmmaker Michel Gondry and neurobiologist Leah Kelly; laminated excerpts of their interviews with Singh are available for reference, but as each subject's material is separate, it's not convenient. There are no wall labels (a laminated map is also available) which makes for a clean look, but it's an acknowledgment that the message is secondary to Singh's overall aesthetic.

The dream-like imagery evokes the Surrealists—birds, the tower of Babel, Picasso, ballet dancers, Bill Murray, and a deconstructed Greek key motif, to name a few. Surely many of the references are explicated in the interviews and in the exhibition catalogue, which has several essays (including one by curator Claire Gilman), but it's impractical to expect the typical viewer to access and focus on these materials. It might even be preferable to walk through knowing absolutely nothing about the backstory, and let the myriad images knit their own associations in your brain. 

Ignacio Uriarte, BIC Transitions, 2010, BIC pen on paper, 16 drawings, each: 11-13/16" x 16-9/16"
Courtesy of the artist and Nogueras Blanchard, Barcelona. Photograph by Simon Vogel.
In contrast, Ignacio Uriarte's Line of Work, consisting of primarily formal ideas, is on view in the back gallery. This compact selection of mostly ball-point pen drawings purportedly riffs on the banality of office life, but his deftness with line and density is breathtaking. Who knew that Bic made inks that could create such subtly differing hues? This should no doubt breathe life into tasks that might still involve ballpoint pens. 

Now what about computers?

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