Sam Falls has had several important solo shows since 2011; in 2012, Forbes even named him one of the ‘30 under 30’ innovators in art and style. But this was the artist’s first exhibition at Eva Presenhuber and he arrived laden with the expectations placed upon a new initiate to the gallery’s stable: show us what you’ve got! Well, what we got, for an artist who has a reputation for embracing and reproducing vibrant colour across multiple media, was surprisingly subdued.
The exhibition was divided into two sections, beginning in a side corridor that runs alongside a row of windows. Opposite the windows were 16 photographs of residential views shot through the windows of Falls’s studio in Venice, California. The photographs were contained in bright frames that echoed the colours featured in the images (the blue from a towel, the red of a truck, the yellow of flowers). But a layer of splattered dust covering the surfaces of the photographs dulled the whole lot. Where Falls has previously made images by bleaching materials in the sun, this time he laid the framed photographs on plasterboard walls painted the same colour as the frames, and left them at the mercy of precipitation. In the main gallery, each of the 16 corresponding plywood ‘walls’ hung with a clean and vibrant rectangle at its centre, where the photograph had been. Each pair, photograph and plasterboard, formed a work: Untitled (639 Santa Clara Avenue, 90291) (plus Truck, Window/Wall, for example, or Towels, Window/Wall, or Potted Gerbers, Window/Wall, etc., all works 2013).
The play between interior and exterior continued in Falls’s untitled aluminium sculptures, whose bright powder-coated colours are as yet undimmed. This is a practised strategy for Falls: although exhibited in the gallery, the works are destined for outdoor display and, when exposed to the elements, certain facets will fade and corrode while others are coated with a UV-protective layer in order to remain untarnished. Two of the sculptures are 2.5-metre-high columns, and two broader pieces are half that height, all of which make bright envelopes of metal with cut-out shapes, their steel brackets cheerfully highlighted.
The final elements of the show were Untitled (Marble, copper & aluminium box sculpture diptych) and Untitled> (Marble, Corten steel & aluminium box sculpture diptych). The former consists of two boxes, one of copper and one of aluminium, each resting on a hefty sheet of marble; the latter features two square sheets of marble, each of which stands upright on a narrow edge. These works represent a new series in which Falls’s homage to his Minimalist antecedents is writ large. Falls takes their formal language and divests it of its weight, not by making it appear weightless, but by making his materials communicate more shape and colour than mass. These sculptures felt like a work in development, not yet as successful as the powder-coated aluminium works that reflected and aligned beautifully as one orbited them. (Of course, whether this effect will last outdoors remains to be seen.)
Falls belongs to a generation of artists who appear at first to happily outsource their work – their printing or fabrication, for example, or even allowing the weather to play a part. Falls, however, wields a significant degree of control. The artist has multiple digital and manual processes of image and colour reproduction in his repertoire. His practice is photography- and sculpture-based, and in his re-worked photographs in particular he can generate source material, sample it, reapply those colours and remake his original, all with impeccable precision. There was a time when to be superficial was a bad thing. But Falls and others have shown how much duration, depth and experience can be concentrated in superficies. Maybe that’s why the central body of work in this show, the photographs with their murky veils of accidental patina layered over the c-type prints, thwarted me. By separating the strata of these images, he has made pieces that are just too deep, when the power of his works lies within their surfaces.