The season of the summer group show is, at least in New York, a kind of swingers’ party for the art world, where casual relationships, vacationing collectors and lofty concepts lure young artists out of their galleries and into unfamiliar romps. ‘Knight’s Move’, SculptureCenter’s contribution to this year’s saturnalia, featured some fine lookers, but curator Fionn Meade couldn’t find the theoretical ambience to turn a room full of singles into the kind of oiled-up orgy that people remember for years to come.
His failure wasn’t for lack of talent; the 19 young artists invited by Meade – and the sculptures, videos, photographs, prints, collages and installations they showed – were thoughtful and well selected. The problem stemmed from the exhibition’s diversity, which would have passed as a necessary by-product of this wide-ranging endeavour had the curator not insisted that the show made perfect sense – if you look at it from this one place, with an eye closed, leaning a bit to the left, while considering the seminal works of x artist, and so on.
I’m glad to report that almost none of the works made such precious demands of their viewers. On the whole, the participating artists were a welcoming lot. Whether is was Alex Hubbard working his creakingly dry funny-bone in the two-channel video How It Is (2010), in which toys sink into puddles of grey paint as though Hubbard was after the opposite of a still life, or Joanna Malinowski connecting the Pliocene Epoch to the present day by way of enlarged animal teeth in Two Mammoth Tusks (2009), even the most cryptic works in ‘Knight’s Move’ had accommodating entrances.
Allyson Vieira’s bas-relief mantlepieces, Old (Not Without Variation) and New (Not Completely Novel) (both 2010), carve out an understanding with paper cups and tangles of cast fingers that prop up and fondle rippling slabs of concrete and plaster.
In Erin Shirreff’s photographic series ‘Signature’ (2010), images of Minimalist sculptures conjoin across the fold of a creased and bowing page, as though each was part of a dissected hardcover tome. The resulting hybrids seem like possible objects, save for the variations of shade in the photographs and the shadows cast by the flexed paper. This is the legerdemain of reproduction; one of perception’s sneaky secrets left lying open for all the world to see, even if you’re unaware that ‘signature’ is book-binding speak for the double-wide sheets that are folded and stitched into individual pages.
Even the works in SculptureCenter’s musty, low-ceilinged basement (which always leaves me wondering whether I accidentally nudged a sconce, spun a wall and ended up in a castle’s secret passageway), found straightforward strategies to illuminate themselves. Alexandre Singh’s Assembly Instructions (Tangential Magick) (2008) isolated the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of magic tricks in a series of framed photocopied collages installed on a white wall to look like a multi-channel storyboard or a diagram of a complex narrative structure. Stripped down to the essentials and sliced into discrete episodes − a hat, then a rabbit in that hat − each trick suddenly seems even more ridiculous, but also more impressive. The passage of time can smooth some improbable things together; Singh simply shows that, when the clock is stopped, what’s frozen is revealingly rough.
Almost all of the works that Meade selected for ‘Knight’s Move’ have this ability to speak plainly about themselves, regardless of their abstraction. In an industry of insiders, at a moment when a kind of obsessive-compulsive esoterica has seized New York’s art world, such frankness is cool to see. For this, Meade should be commended, but the thing about cool is that it hates to talk about itself, which means the exhibition may have been better off without its sprawling curatorial framework. Meade’s press release and essay struggle to find a first principle in the divergent practices that he pulled together, and the resulting texts are painfully abstruse (even for a medium that gets a fair amount of mocking). Still, ‘Knight’s Move’ was a satisfying summer fling. Meade has a black book filled with talent and it’s nice to be reminded that the guests make the party, that the art works, not the theories between them or the coverage around them, ultimately provided the climax.