The tiny space seemed to have been abandoned in a hurry. When they moved out, the previous tenants had forgotten a few things: on the floor, a scattering of turquoise polystyrene packaging chips; on the windowsill, a tangerine, a pear and an apple, all rotting away; on a ledge, some half-eaten biscuits; on the floor, three large termite mounds.
At first, what David Adamo is doing with these laconically titled works – (Untitled) packing peanuts 3, (Untitled) fruits, (Untitled) cookies 4, (Untitled) Cathedral, (Untitled) Magnetic (all 2013) – seems to match the type of half-ironic, half-provocative gesture that is so popular among artists of his generation, whose main aim seems to be an exploration of what we might accept as sculpture. One is reminded of Klara Lidén who has dismantled rubbish bins and lined them up as readymades, or Sofia Hultén who once neatly laid out the contents of an old toolbox, full of rusty screws, in a pristine white gallery space. By shifting the semantics of objects to the margins of perception, these artists achieve maximum dramatic impact with minimal effort. By showing rubbish and found objects they showcase wear and tear rather than design. Ultimately, all of these actions resemble each other in their casualness. Adamo, too, seems to be celebrating materiality reduced to the absolute minimum, with no attempt to hide the dubiousness of this approach.
On closer inspection, however, this is clearly the wrong way to discuss this work. Rather than a casual pose that subverts the concept of sculpture, here’s the opposite: a kind of over-fulfilment of the genre, coupled with an almost manic interest in technical precision. The show’s carefully assembled paraphernalia of the discarded, the worthless and the already used are in fact meticulously recreated models of the original objects. In earlier installations, Adamo made minor alterations to found objects and placed them in new contexts. At the Bielefelder Kunstverein in 2012, he laid out 40,000 pieces of chalk to form a herringbone parquet floor and used a process of rudimentary carving to transform solid wooden beams into objects that resembled not so much building materials as totem poles. This time, he modelled marginal everyday objects as deceptively realistic copies. The meticulousness of the mimicry on show here raises many questions: which is more authentic, the original or the imitation?
In Charlie Kaufman’s 2008 film Synecdoche, New York, theatre imitates life to the point where the two can no longer be told apart. Adamo’s representations of objects imitate their actual dimensions and fill them with plaster and clay to the point where they seamlessly replace their real counterparts. But not quite: the objects do occasionally show fine lines from the casting mould, their surfaces can sometimes be identified as painted, and the white of the plaster does shine through here and there. The real-looking termite mounds are clay originals made by Adamo as the basis for bronze sculptures. In this show, these were the works that most resembled conventional sculptures. Here, every individual object is contradictory, almost schizophrenic, at one with itself as an imitation, but then something quite different to what it claims to be: imitation of a real everyday object and imitation of a sculpture. ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ wrote René Magritte in 1929 under a picture of a pipe, calling his painting La trahison des images (The Betrayal of Pictures). Adamo stages a similar ‘betrayal’ of the sculptural format, but without words. These ambivalences added up to a coherent exhibition, but only because the apparently unrelated objects were in fact multiply linked. However casually the objects were left lying around, their interplay was highly charged: the termite mounds looked like utopian architecture models; the fruit and biscuits, bitten into and cast aside, and the packaging material that has served its purpose are the waste products of an affluent society. The meticulous reconstructions ennobled these objects and made it possible to think about them in new ways. Taken together, they constituted a sharp conversation piece about what the world is full of and how we encounter it.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell