Sam Pulitzer has rendered Galerie Francesca Pia labyrinthine. It has not been physically altered to accommodate his 20 colour-pencil works on paper. Instead, the outlines of seven closed doors limned around the space in small vinyl text echo other apertures and open novel, notional routes. The pencil works themselves seem at the wrong scale, too diminutive for the large gallery, almost logo-like – or, indeed, logos, such as Where Is Santiago Maldonado? (all works 2017), which features the emblem of Dunkin’ Donuts. The combined effect is like being planted within a moderately well-designed game architecture, swivelling around to find the best way to proceed.
The drawings included in ‘Shadow of the Problem as Such’ are all 32 by 47.5 centimetres, framed and set behind Plexiglas. In muted colour pencil, they are diagrammatic: an object or idea is presented at the centre of the page, while a legend runs below in vinyl lettering. Disparate sources and subjects signal the political and economic left and right, from Bolivia to China, with an emphasis on New York, and from the Atlético Madrid strip to a tiger eating its tail. Image and text do not accord in an immediately edifying manner. A drawing of a Honda car key is accompanied by a line in Arabic from the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s ‘I See My Ghost Coming from Afar’ (1995): ‘What will happen after the ashes?’ The work’s title is Good news to the rest of the world. You can leave us alone., pulled from a Facebook post from a Jeddah-based lawyer, which was quoted in a New Yorker article on Saudi Arabia’s recent overturning of the ban on women drivers. Project for a New American Century shows the lid of a pizza box, emblazoned with a cityscape and an immense star-spangled banner. The title is borrowed from the name of a hawkish neoconservative think-tank from the naughties, while the text at the bottom of the page is lifted from Joseph Roth’s 1932 novel The Radetzky March: ‘To swallow the rest of one’s thoughts, a huge tangled coil’. Other topics include indigenous peoples struggles, workers’ rights, ecology, agriculture and income distribution.
Pulitzer provides a crib sheet for the array of references included in the works on paper, but we are left alone to unpick the doors. Events had been piling up fast and thick, for example, starts with the title on the bottom left, and continues up and around in a clockwise direction: ‘It was as if the sun had risen twice a day and set twice a day’ (another Roth quote). Where the bottom right of the frame meets with the floor, the work reads: ‘dominion and volition are just shit together’. Sometimes the prose is purple, or dry, elsewhere it is belligerent, but each lettered door dangles the possibility that it might be an access point to insight, only to ultimately block the way thanks to the tangle of text.
Pulitzer has previously investigated the conditions facing artists working today, exploring, for example, the boundary zones of New York, into which outpriced artists are driven, and staging a collaborative – or outsourced – show at Artists Space, in the same city. In this exhibition, too, a theory is being put into practice. The precision of the pencil drawings echoes those of children’s textbooks and, by extension, a world that can be explained in a positive, tidy way. Here, though, we have an illusory scenario, for despite the bright, self-explanatory air of Pulitzer’s drawings, and the urgency of their subject matter, there is little cross-pollination of ideas. Thus, we are returned to the labyrinth, wondering if things are even more confusing than we first thought.
Main image: Sam Pulitzer, Too much tension, too much beer / What the hell am I doing here, 2017, (detail), coloured pencil and adhesive vinyl on paper, framed 32 × 48 × 4 cm. Courtesy: Galerie Francesca Pia, Zurich, Switzerland