Doubling as a bookshop and event space for philosophy publisher Sequence Press, Miguel Abreu Gallery’s always had an ambitious engagement with philosophy. “Conspicuous Unusable,” Abreu’s latest show, takes the philosopher’s conception of the usability of material things as the starting point for a well-curated, minimalist-oriented group show. To Heidegger, material objects are made legible by our referring to both the "towards which" of their intended use and the "whereof" of their original source. Leah Pires and Johanna Bergmark, the show’s curators, are interested in what happens when a material falls from utilitarian grace, drawing attention to itself by way of the “conspicuousness of the unusable.”
REY AKDOGAN, Untergerät, 2013, Tile flooring [extraction], 31 tiles x 0.11 m2 / 566 tiles x 0.11 m2; Courtesy of the artist & Miguel Abreu Gallery.
What this translates to in terms of the art present is a show featuring only a few objects, made from everyday industrial substances and products carrying a certain aesthetic resonance with the surrounding neighborhood of Chinatown—the materials comprising the pieces referencing both the area’s industrial history, as well as the refuse littering the streets. Rey Akdogan’s Untergerät (2013), the first work upon entry to Miguel Abreu, is almost unnoticeable, as one literally walks over it. Consisting simply of cut-tile flooring edging the gallery, it resembles a half-hearted attempt to draw a limit to the exhibition space, a knowing wink to the commonplace nature of the works’ materials. Do You Remember? (2013) is plastered against the right wall upon entry. Beige, semi-translucent trash bags cut open and layered against each other, Do You Remember? creates a gradation of tan that resembles a monochromatic color test. Despite being splayed flatly against the wall, the sculpture almost seems to thicken at points, the polyethylene shimmering lightly.
An older piece in the show is Series D Vierkantrohre (Square Tubes) (1967/2009), from German artist Charlotte Poseneske, who famously gave up art in 1968 and worked as a social scientist until her death in 1985. The sculpture is fitted to the space so that the tubes obtrusively spring up from the ground and push inwards from the wall, resembling the ventilation ducts like those used for industrial food production (referencing the gallery space’s previous life as a dumpling shop). Series D stands across from a number of Dorothea Rockburne’s studies for her piece Scalar (1970), in which Rockbourne poured oil onto chipboard, creating a surface somehow recalling both water damage and burn marks.
CHARLOTTE POSENENSKE, Series D Vierkantrohre (Square Tubes), 1967/2009, Sheet steel, Dimensions and configuration variable; Courtesy of the artist & Miguel Abreu Gallery.
The standout piece is Gabriel Kuri’s Two nudes two points (2013). It consists of two sections of marble fit snugly together and propped nonchalantly against the wall, like a looted section of a bank lobby. A pair of symmetrically placed energy drinks are crushed between the slabs, creating a humorous tableaux of corporate gloss and tacky refuse. Given the neighborhood’s context in lower Manhattan, one may consider Two nudes a reflection of the shift away from industrial production to the continually-caffeinated economy of data and high finance.
The reassembly of everyday materials into sculpture isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but the artworks’ careful references to their vicinity and the artists' considered use of banal urban objects have produced a show that’s surprisingly pleasurable.
(Image on top: Gabriel Kuri, Two nudes two points, 2013 , Marble slabs, crushed aluminium drink cans , 100 x 120 x 10 cm; Courtesy of the artist & Miguel Abreu Gallery)