“Ruins in Reverse” is the inaugurating exhibition of this nascent gallery, and it’s well organized. Ten artists, each represented by a single work, share two small floors. Repurposed materials abound. No art is older than 2009 and the three newest works were made (or at least completed) in the first week of January. What’s well demonstrated here is the skill of reconfiguration, the ability to manipulate an object or a series of objects in such a way that they maintain a piece of their original integrity while participating in the emergence of a new form. In other words: sculptural collage.
The phrase “ruins in reverse” comes from an article penned by Robert Smithson back in 1967 about “buildings that rise into ruin before they are built,” as opposed to the romantic variety that “fall into ruin.” This is a kind of construction that would seem to not only take into account deconstructive possibilities, but even rely on them. David Scanavino’s wall mounted piece, Tableau(New York Times, December 6-18th, 2011) (2011), exemplifies this approach. Thirteen days of newspaper have been reduced to grey pulp, which the artist installed as a wall piece in a long and sharply delineated rectangle at head height. Most striking is the texture; traces of pressed digits create a topography of finger-shaped ridges and canyons.
Materials and processes orient much of the work, and form is often dictated by the implementation of a concept. Nick Van Woert’s contribution, Equilateral (2012), uses the configuration of a tripod to commingle bronze, steel, and sparkly coal slag. Four cast bronze objects —a handheld pick-ax, a crowbar, a knife, and a twig—each represent a unique connection with the artist. The ax came from a random shop, the crowbar from his studio, the twig from nature, and the knife from the estate of Ted Kaczynski. Balance becomes more than a formal element of the work; it gestures toward the equivalence of these objects and their referents in the artist’s creative process.
There is a lot of internal harmony in the exhibition. Repetition of form and evidence of the artist’s hand unites Tableau with Ethan Breckenridge’s untitled sculpture of interlocking rings and grids as well as with ZiporaFried’s large drawing, Luftbadgasse (2009), in which a scalloped graphite scribble repeats itself across the entire paper, producing a solid dark rectangle. Zak Kitnick and Wyatt Kahn both use detritus to craft their work though the outcomes couldn’t be more different. Kitnick fashions a sturdy, neat square out of slices of copper and bronze; Kahn goes for odds and ends of unprimed canvas that come together in a kind of anti-shape.
Erin Shirreff’s four pigment prints, Untitled (2011), combine different grainy black and white photographs of an oddly shaped object to create something even more odd looking. What’s interesting is that as the subject matter recedes the new linear relationships created by Shirfeff’s arrangements emerge. A very similar phenomenon happens three dimensionally in David Brooks’s sculpture 3 Dune Formations (2012). It looks like it could have been a doghouse once, maybe, but the structure has been so madly rearranged that its prominent feature is the intertwining lines of 2x4s.
Other work is less a matter of reconfiguration or transformation than it is a process of layering and building. Emily Henretta’s tremendous freestanding sculpture Polarization Layer Model #3 (2011), which requires one to peek into the office for a view (it’s not technically part of the show, though it easily could be), has a foundation of what appears to be Styrofoam packaging. It’s actually cast plaster, out of which rises a transparent acrylic dowel rod topped with a slice of tree bark, a piece of sheet film, and a clip of nails for a nail gun—all of which are held in place with tiny magnets. It could be a totem to throwaway objects with histories that probably shouldn’t collide but now do. Eric Lindman’sChristian Hair Shirt (2011) moves in the other direction. Rather than objects accumulating they seem to disintegrate, a few sheets of rice paper appear to dissolve over a thatched surface that is itself breaking apart like an iceberg in warming waters.
This is a show that asks you to think about origins, histories, and crossing trajectories. It encourages curiosity about how things come to be as they are. For a gallery that is just staring out, these are particularly apt considerations to be identifying in works of art. The bar is now set, and it’s set pretty high.
Image: DAVID BROOKS, 3 Dune Formations 2012. Courtesy Room East.