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I became a fan of 40-year-old, Berlin-based Ceal Floyer’s work the way I imagine many people became a fan–by straightaway falling for a discreet piece in a museum’s permanent collection. The Tate Modern often exhibits its version of the artist’s 1992 Light Switch, wherein a 35mm slide of a light switch is projected onto the wall at the actual size and height of a light switch. For years I have asked returning friends if they remember it from that crowded, crazy blockbuster-culture scene, and they invariably do, and warmly. Light Switch is an excellent, distinctly memorable artwork for a destination museum, as it’s both easy and very enjoyable to describe to others. It’s a puzzle and it’s a pun and it’s a gag, and you get it and you still like it. It’s a joke you can retell without fearing it’ll lose its punch. These are qualities that have ever made for great art.
Floyer is currently hanging in New York for her second solo show with 303 Gallery. There are three recent works (two from 2009, one from 2007) in the tall cube of 303’s new auxiliary space. Today’s Special is a two-sided sign, the blackboard type, with ‘TODAY’S SPECIAL’ on the front in what looks like casual, scratched chalk, and ‘TOMORROW’S ANOTHER DAY’ on the back. Ink on paper is 30 pieces of paper on which pens were pressed until their ink drained out. The result is a long, kaleidoscopic line of quite beautiful blobby, ovoid, graduated pools of color. Scale is a from-scratch staircase built from two-foot-tall speakers embedded in the wall in a line ascending to the upper corner of the gallery. A clip-clop echoes up and down the stairs, from speaker to speaker. A ghost, in heavy shoes, prone to pacing, is a decent way to recall it.
The common thread between these three works is transformation, a recycling or sublimation of one cultural object/construct into another. A bit of advertising, a pen, or a sound becomes an affirmation, a circle or a staircase. The affirmation turns back into advertising just as easily, and the staircase can return to being an unexplainable avant-garde soundsystem if you want it to. The sculptures change what they mean in relation to each other, too. The line of colored dots can become a score for the music, or a marking of days to the person who lives by “tomorrow’s another day.” The gallery, the work in it, the names of the sculptures, the location of the gallery, the time of day and the viewer collide, informing each other and whipping up new art in between the art that’s already there. It’s about the flow of things. Meaning comes from cues that bleed from one piece to another, and travel through the viewer, and get soaked into the space and the moment that the work is seen. Visualize a body of work like this jiggling–like heated, punky molecules–with potential energy.
On the walk from the gallery, my brain began tripping spastically. A sign similar to Today’s Special depicting an unappetizing panini sandwich sent me on an epic, bizarre riff about the meaning and place of grill marks, a long internal discussion on why and whether those black stripes can make food more tasty, as well as the rather grisly metallic reality of how they come into being. I was buzzing on the walk home, and Floyer helped it happen.-Bones
Ceal Floyer is up at 303 Gallery, 525 West 22nd Street, until July. In many ways, this show makes a nice two-hander with Charles Ray at Matthew Marks a few blocks away, and the last installment of Bones’ Beat acts as an introduction to thinking about this work.
Next week, Bones checks in with Sigmar Polke, a now-old yet still spectacularly influential artist, at Michael Werner Gallery uptown. Polke is to be taken seriously, as our parsing and plumbing of the New York art world, as lovers of art, continues.