Ironically, perhaps, for such a wayward, unpredictable and contrarian artist, Eric Wesley has a fondness for numbers and systems. ‘Some Work’, his sardonically titled quasi-retrospective at 356 S. Mission Road, was arranged around a neat numeric structure. A map, printed on the back of the invitation card in lieu of a press release, provided a key.
One: the single integer constituted by a twisted steel beam, 11 metres long and suspended in horizontal equilibrium by a cable from the ceiling. As it torques, it almost imperceptibly transforms from an I-beam at one end into a U-channel at
the other. The singular work, I Beam U Channel (2015), is on its way to becoming two. The gesture is typical of the Los Angeles-based artist. Wesley has said: ‘I don’t like to pick sides.’
Two: the large, round, stained-glass windows inserted high into opposite walls of the gallery space. That the brown, yellow, red and green shapes resemble cells under a microscope is probably not lost on the scientifically inclined artist. The work, Inch-Alota (2015), actually represents two cross-sections through a burrito, alluding to a project Wesley made in 2002 in which assistants constructed and fed an endless burrito through a hole in the wall of Meyer Riegger, Karlsruhe, where it was devoured by gallery visitors. (The proposed retrospective format of ‘Some Work’ was kiboshed by the artist when, in every instance, he elected to make new versions of existing pieces.)
Three: the funny little white buggies that Wesley fabricated in 2010 to represent the x, y and z axes of a three-dimensional Cartesian matrix, and three corresponding abstract expressionist paintings in which x, y and z are translated into red, yellow and blue, the colours apparently representing aggression, fear and sadness. Sometimes, as here, Wesley’s appropriation of scientific formulae seems wilfully obscure or even facile. His gift for puns, however, is profound; the white vehicles are titled D’Cart X, Y and Z (2010/2015).
In 2007, Wesley presented a cross-shaped Jacuzzi at Bortolami, New York, titled Spaference Room (2007). For this exhibition, he dismembered the installation and reconfigured it in four parts, each theoretically useable by the viewer. Spa-Brary (2007/2015) includes reading material (In Touch Weekly, Picture Puzzles and a patent for something called the 001DXecutor), helpfully laminated for the bath. In Spa-Versation (2007/2015) a fiery gas heater throws furious hot air at the seated viewer’s face.
Number five was represented by 5 Plants of New Amsterdam (2001/2015), a glass herbarium cultivating five tobacco plants which Wesley will harvest for his New Amsterdam Lights brand of cigarettes. Unlike the formally underwhelming spa sculptures, this glass tank – which revealed the plants’ roots and soil strata – transcended its origin as a witty conceptual gesture to become a compelling metaphorical object that rhymed evocatively with Inch-Alota’s cross-sectioned burrito.
Six small models of men lying on wooden plinths depicted slumbering philosophers, three ancient (Aristotle, Plato and Confucius) and three modern (Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze). Wesley cast the ancients in bronze from altered moulds taken from their plastic, latter-day successors; the work was perhaps less about philosophy per se than the canonization of thought and thinkers (‘New Realistic Figures’ series, 2009–15). Wesley’s sculpture WTF (What The Fuck) (2015) could be seen as an oblique corollary: since 2009 he has been casting the successive moulds of an object whose genesis is now lost in time. On display here was its seventh iteration; each time it is purchased, a new bronze cast of the existing outer mould is taken, and the exhibited form becomes larger and more indeterminate.
Perhaps the truer correlation is between WTF (What The Fuck) and the eighth work on Wesley’s numerological system. For his finale, he turns eight on its side to make ∞; a rented Infiniti sedan is parked outside the gallery, protected by a nearly imperceptible coat of clear automotive lacquer. In both works, invisibility makes space for thought, and signification. Infinity Project (Black) (2015) is an almost cosmic work, the title casting one’s thoughts towards the gleaming forever, towards an endless perfection. Like most of Wesley’s oeuvre, it is deeply – even painfully – ironic.