Five Myles | February 22 – March 22, 2003
Five Myles presents Remains of the Day, an exhibition of architectural fragments in two and three dimensions, curated by Lilly Wei. Jim Osman offers four quixotic works of architectural passage: a facade, a wall, window, and a gate. Susan Smith works from material pulled from dumpsters—the remains of gutted houses—and composes these elements into quiet, compelling wall pieces.
Osman’s “Façade” faces the viewer entering the show. Standing 84 inches high and in the imposing shape of Egyptian pylon gate, “Façade” is a compact theatrical stage set of interior/exterior. The front side is covered in wood shingles and the back side is painted in nesting squares of Necco wafer house paint. Four rectangular wooden openings perforate the standing wall from front to back, working against the raison d’etre of wallness—that of keeping the outside out. The effect is a visual competition to the eye. Does one look at or through the wall (which, being a facade, is only a non-structural aesthetic wrapper)? Perhaps the piece refers to shifting real estate economics occurring in Brooklyn, with the shingles being an artifact of the architecturally dissonant practice of suburbanizing brownstones in the 1960s and ’70s, and the sherbet colored interior paint reflecting the surface aesthetics of “freshness” in the re-facading of gentrification.
“Here and There Wall” is a knee-high free standing wall, made of wood and pigmented plaster, in the shape of a reverse “S” (though made with right angles). Each side of the wall is painted to suggest a different facture—on one side the small intervals of red brick, on the other the larger gray cinder block. The diminutive scale of this proverbial brick wall calls its reality check into question. Osman seems to be interested in undermining the material certainty of architecture by exposing its deceptive cosmetics of surface. Despite its reference to solidity, Osman’s wall cannot be—it cannot be composed of both brick and cinder block, as the two blocks cannot simultaneously occupy the same space; one must be structure, the other only surface. Within the frame of art, each pretends to have material weight.
Susan Smith’s works are limited to a grisaille palette of unpainted wallboard, bleached floorboard, aluminum trim, and bathroom tile, as well as her own gradations of silvery paint. She assembles and rearranges her work from the demolition/construction leavings of the Brooklyn streets. Because her work is formally rigorous, it avoids what might otherwise be a pervading aesthetic of the forlorn. Within her five pieces there is evident an interesting bifurcating tendency. In “Inside Out” (19 5/8 inches by 19 7/8 inches), the logic of the square seems to predicate a tautness and balance. Found plasterboard is coupled with painted sections resulting in a self-contained, if static work where the found materials are constructed into a pictorial whole.
In contrast to this, “White Tile with Silver” (5 1/2 inches by 8 3/4 inches) is irregular in outline and resembles a core sample of a bathroom wall. Here, the other life of the materials, their original conditions, are evoked. The mind reconstructs an entirety from the fragment. Perhaps this is due to the piece’s diminutive size, which makes extrapolation of scale more natural, or perhaps to the rightness of the materials, which seem to sing together—the white tile being somehow whiter than white.
At the far end of the gallery, is “Metal Frame” (73 inches by 96 inches), which returns to the earlier self-contained mode. A shiny chrome frame separates nine painted panels of gradating value, stacked three by three. The inside edge of the frame has been lined with an attached gold trim, giving a subtle radiance to the squares. The overall effect recalls the blank, mirroring surfaces of downtown corporate architecture, the light passing over the mute facades, a dynamic interior beneath a reflective cladding.
Both artists appear to play with the architectural tensions between concrete objectness and spatial deconstruction. In this later tendency, they are in the tradition of Gordon Matta-Clark, and the Anarchitecture group of the early 1970s, which in Matta-Clark’s words sought “completion through removal/ completion through collapse/ completion through emptiness.”
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JOHN HAWKE is a contributor to the Rail.