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Oliver Payne and Nick Relph

Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York, USA


Design is the central theme for Oliver Payne and Nick Relph’s seventh show at Gavin Brown, subjects ranging from the lofty aspirations of Dutch De Stijl to the quotidian concerns of contemporary office cubes. From the former, the duo borrows a restricted palette - red, yellow, blue, and grey, black and white - and the philosophy of pure, undecorated form. Two chair-like sculptures follow the angular planes of Gerrit Rietveld’s Berliner chair, but incorporate curvilinear figures into a cunningly bastardized form. From the latter, Aeron chairs are customized with studs and re-upholstered in a variety of clothes including button-down and tie-dye shirts. The spectrum is a perfect synopsis of 20th century design’s diverse - and divergent - solutions for better living, from the unforgiving Dutchman who demanded conformity, to Hermann Miller’s mass-market claim of comfortably accommodating any physique.

This spectrum provides fertile ground for Payne and Relph to explore the work of an earlier provocateur, Marcel Duchamp, and his iconic Bicycle Wheel (originally 1913). At first blush, the bespoke wheels and stools feel a little blasphemous, but the principle grows more engaging with TK (2007). In this clever sculpture-cum-projection, a wheel serves as the reel for a movie made from holes punched directly into filmstrip. The piece is lovely in an Eamesian sort of way - a beautiful little scene created from almost nothing - and is reminiscent of the captivating non-figurative diversions in earlier Payne and Relph films. Like Duchamp’s own bicycle, itself an ‘assisted Readymade’ (or altered ordinary object), the artists’ inquisitively subversive spirit comes to light best in simple situations.

Elsewhere, clear plastic folding chairs serve as screens for animations; mouse pads hidden behind cloudy planes of glass morph into patterned abstractions; a reconfigured music logo is silkscreened onto mirrors; outmoded projectors reveal an aesthetic sensibility rather than a penchant for early-film technology. As a group, the work is an amalgamation of old ideas and objects that has been revisited, and lest we miss the satirical nod to possible obsolescence, out-of-date architecture books are stashed in the back, like the 1974 text A New Life for the Abandoned Service Station. It is the perfect emblem of a body of work made by two British artists recently relocated to Los Angeles, the American capital of self re-invention, who themselves are re-evaluating their method of making art. (Previous films grew largely from their foot-fueled, public-transport days in England). As ever, the work is cheeky stuff—the announcement poster is a younger Gavin Brown hawking a futuristic car in a dodgy old garage—and it continues to engage.

Watch Payne and Relph’s Musical Food

Katie Sonnenborn


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About this review

Published on 15/09/07
by Katie Sonnenborn

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