I haven’t written in a while and I’m feeling apprehensive about it. Mainly because I love Ryan Gander’s work, and liked his new exhibition at the Lisson Gallery a lot; and because the Lisson itself to me is still a slightly clinical/cynical space with a supercilious commercial backbite.
Gander is in many ways the ideal kind of artist: conceptual without being obtuse, experimental with mode and media, appealing to the eyes and the brain. Though this exhibition, his second solo presentation at the Lisson, and his umpteenth production on a global level, was not as heart-racingly empirical as his last big London project, Locked Room Scenario, it does elucidate, and with greater clarity, the nexus of Gander’s work – pared down, more grown-up (and inevitably, more commercially-friendly). Yet Gander always injects playful warmth, even in this commercial space, where somehow it seems ok to touch the works (though it’s probably not), where you feel as if the artist were lurking behind a corner, playing practical jokes on the viewer. Such as the brilliant Kodak Courage on the first floor, which, try as we might to get to, like some kind of Crystal Maze contestants, we could not defy. An elusive opaque glass box atop a plinth that only when you remain outside the room for some time suddenly dissipates to reveal some kind of internal object – the minute, however, that you step closer, it coyly flicks back to its nebulous state. Gander has a real sense of humour – disseminated through his art, so that the works themselves seem to possess it independently.
Ryan Gander, The Fallout of Living, Installation view, Lisson Gallery, London, 2012; Courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery
But there is a serious side to this show. Gander differentiates between ‘curating’ and ‘self-curating’ in an interview with Elephant magazine, published last year, in which he talks engagingly about his practice, and confesses that he feels he is ‘not very good’ at curating (ironic, or rather self-deprecating, given he went on to curate the Lisson’s inaugural Milan show, and has also curated for his wife’s gallery, Limoncello). The Fallout of Living feels very coherent, for a relatively sparse number of works. Themes of family, home life, the perfunctory motions of the quotidian, all emerge, as the title might lead us to suspect, but there is also a more rarefied exploration of the interplay between ‘fake’ and ‘real’, particularly tightly and effectively realized in the materials chosen for each piece: perspex that is layered, but given its transparency, may as well be a single sheet; cast marble dust sculptures of white sheets that conceal a child and a child’s den made of chairs; a commode with a discarded condom, all carved of single block of wood (The Way Things Collide [condom, meet USM cabinet]).
Ryan Gander, Tell my mother not to worry (ii), 2012, Marble; Courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery
Then the jocular again, as with More really shiny things that don’t mean anything which barricades the entrance to the gallery’s front room on the ground floor. Gander makes fun of us, but in an endearing way, keeping us out of the places we really want to get in, trying to decipher codes that turn out to be nonsense, or navigating obstacles. It feeds our insatiable desire to know and understand everything, but then flirtatiously pushes the door shut with a glimpse of petticoats, or dashes behind a curtain, as in The Best Club, a black out curtain with nothing behind it.
If you’re not nosy, or even a little curious, Gander’s work probably won’t excite you too much, but Gander is an artist who makes work that is both intelligent and funny – and who feels somehow uncompromising, even when in a commercial space. He’s young still and prolific and exciting. For fear of over-hyping, I’ll leave it at that.
(Image on top: Ryan Gander, I is... (I), 2012, Marble; Courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery)