‘I don’t believe in accidents and randomness’, Gedi Sibony said in an online interview in 2009 for New York’s Sculpture Center. ‘It’s just about being able to catch things as they’re coming through, catch them and just gently turn them over’. And that’s what he did, quite literally, in this exhibition, which featured six small-format drawings, with titles like Zyphir, Charlotte or High Hat (all 2012), set in cheap, simple frames but turned over and hung backwards on the wall. Instead of the drawings themselves, one saw their supporting elements of cardboard, paper and adhesive tape.
The rest of the exhibition remained equally anti-figurative, the only exception being Held By Hands (2012): two rudimentary plaster figures – resembling prehistoric artefacts from arguably different locations – were mounted like two puppets in a theatre against a black, partly reflective wall piece. But the show began with a kind of unofficial work which was not featured on the gallery’s list and was not for sale. The unnamed and undated intervention was made on site out of the cardboard packaging material used to transport another piece: The Second Innermost Adornment (2012). This white curtain-like construction hung across a doorway at the end of the space and thus provided a closure while suggesting the opening to another room.
Becoming Situated (2012) – a large cardboard panel covered in paint casually applied with a roller – seemed like an updated version of Untitled Installation (2007), which had appeared in Unmonumental at New York’s New Museum in 2007. The artist has since become something of a model pupil of the school of this ‘unmonumental’ idea of sculpture and installation described by that show’s co-curators Richard Flood, Massimiliano Gioni and Laura Hoptman as ‘cobbled together, pushed and prodded into a state of suspended animation’, with the resulting forms characterized as ‘stubby, brutish’, and as ‘debased, precarious, trembling’.
It thus seems appropriate to discuss Sibony’s practice in terms of trash – especially its heightened aestheticization. His work jis less about ordinary garbage than the ephemeral leftovers of simple but stylistically confident renovations by young creative types – designer trash, so to speak, in elegant shades of brown, beige and grey. Here, Sibony coated these leftovers with a film of transcendental everyday poetry through a statement in which he refers to ‘localized revelation of the universe,’ ‘the confirmation of the mystery of life’ and ‘epiphany’.
‘Could it be that certain art exhibitions have become metaphysical junkyards?’ Robert Smithson raises this question in his 1972 essay Cultural Confinement, advocating a direct engagement with very physical junkyards, namely, the excavation pits, slagheaps and polluted rivers of New Jersey. This of course is all water under the bridge by now; the exhibition spaces and the associated contemporary art discourse have long been capable of accommodating both kinds of junk. The artistic gesture of redefining trash as art may have been an established part of modernism since Marcel Duchamp. But thanks to the popularity of this gesture, the resulting formalism one sees in Sibony’s work has long since lost much of its function and attractiveness.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell