A group show is like snippets of a conversation, a series of overheard remarks. Works comment on each other by their proximity to those of other artists. You can get only a sense of someone, as if you had met him or her at a party and exchanged a few words, and positioned that person in relation to the others there.
But at least you get to meet someone. It's hard enough for an artist to be noticed today, so the very fine group exhibition at Marian Goodman Gallery Paris gives us a welcome chance to make even a passing acquaintance with several rising artists.
"The devil's fidelity" (its title taken from an Emily Dickinson poem about, among other things, the mutability of perception), features video, sculpture, photography and painted works by six artists who weigh in on visual and aural reality.
One of the first whose work you encounter is Tim Lee, who is based in Vancouver, and whose video and photograph here explore the relative truth in what we perceive.
View of the exhibition, The devil’s fidelity, From left to right: Tim Lee, String Quartet, Op.1, Glenn Gould, 1955, 2010 ; Matias Faldbakken, Moonshine Sculpture, 2011 ; Tim Lee, Solo, Merce Cunningham, 1953, 2010; Courtesy of the artists and Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris/ New York, Photo credit: Marc Domage
His video opposite it, String Quartet, Opus 1, Glenn Gould, 1955, similarly presents Lee as a musician playing all four instruments in a filmed performance of a composition by pianist Glenn Gould. The quick editing between figures, hands, instrument, face, and the cutting between the sounds of the instruments on the four screens convey a sense of a complete quartet being played by someone who might not be the novice he actually is. The ear, the eye and the mind embrace this illusion: we want to believe in the photo we see, the sounds we hear, the videos we regard: we assume that what's being depicted is real. It is real. Lee is playing the instruments, he is crouching in a balletic way. But it is also false. He's not as good a musician or dancer as the editing or cropping might lead you to believe.
When you first enter the gallery, you might regard on the far wall, above the welcome desk, a clock that itself turns – rather than its hands. It's a work by Mark Soo, who is based in Berlin. Playing with time – or playing with the marking of it – is always rather unsettling, even though we have been led to believe by current developments in astrophysics and the paradoxes of the quantum universe that time is a construct rather than a truly observable reality. Nevertheless, we like to be grounded, as it were, by the notion that we can place ourselves, using our perceptions of time, in relation to our present – however that's defined. As simple an idea as rendering a clock move more on its face than through its visible "timekeeping" mechanism, as in No Good Time (Seconds), is enough to disorient us.
Soo's Indeterminate Parts shows an auto workshop of some sort, with an old car amid the variety of automotive detritus that you'd find in any garage. But the image has the appearance of being flecked with blood or of being digitally manipulated; it's more than a photo of an auto-body shop – it's like the blinking of the mind's eye to resolve a blurry afterthought.
Another Berlin-based artist, Nina Canell, is represented here by two sculptures that suggest humanity or that humanity we humans look for regardless of what we actually see. Slight Bend of the Elbow is made up of copper tubes, a fluorescent light and a stone (upon which one leg of the three-legged sculpture is perched). It's a graceful statue, an abstraction that begins to anthropomorphize: you realize that we see each other as stylized shapes often enough, rather than as individualized beings. Mender, mounted on the wall, is a lovely evocation of a sort of visual regret, as if you could see in terms of isolated emotion. It shows six pieces – metal stakes or nails – strung together and hanging as if awaiting repair, or not, casting a Giacometti-like shadow on the wall behind. What's there is perhaps less important than what's implied, and it's we who infer something from the shapes Canell has created.
Mattias Faldbakken, who lives and works in Oslo, has here Moonshine Sculpture (Jugs 24-28), which seem to be whatever the viewer takes them to be: empty jugs, crushed torsos, a gathering of solid forms that look like bleached and beached Pop Art artifacts after a nuclear winter.
In Fields of Rest, Cyprien Gaillard, an artist who lives and works in Berlin, Paris and Los Angeles, gives us a study in what you might call monumental miniaturist: small photo-like works framed within large expanses of white. You need to come in close to see anything and when you do, you're not sure what it is you see. Gaillard toys with the gallery exhibition and nods, of course, to Duchamp, in that anything that's framed or presented can be taken for art. It's what we decide, perhaps, that counts.
Mai-Thu Perret, who lives and works in Geneva, has two works in the show. A neon sculpture, 2014, is made up of three large circles, three smaller circles, and three bars – one horizontal and the two others forming a cross. It's like a dismantled snowman. It marks a neat contrast to her Flow My Tears, which is made up of a mannequin with a silver head sporting a reproduction black Schiaparelli gown and black gloves, posed midstride (like a wingless Winged Victory). It's a study in stasis and implied motion, still brightness and somber movement, humanized abstraction and a dehumanized representation. We assign a recognized form to circles and lines, and a human presence to a lifeless dummy wearing a couture gown.
Nothing is quite real, but neither is it false: it's our perception that speaks to us. We can believe it if we choose, but it's better perhaps if we are aware of the limits of what we see, or the boundaries of what we think we know.
(Image at top: Tim Lee, String Quartet, Op. 1, Glenn Gould, 1955, 2010, 4-channel HD , 3:40, continuous; Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery - Paris)