Art Criticism and Writing | MFA Program

Saturday April 20th, 2013
Filed under Spring 2013

Transforming the Trajectory of Time: Three Recent Exhibitions

by Rabia Ashfaque

Liu Wei, installation view. Courtesy Lehmann Maupin Gallery.

Reclaimed doors, shutters still bearing drill holes and nail punctures, metal bolts, wooden beams grainy and dull with patches of old paint: these were some of the architectural components set in frames and displayed in Liu Wei’s recent exhibition at Lehmann Maupin. These wall pieces were interspaced with paintings of lines, on some canvases taking the form of horizontal bands of color reminiscent of dawn or dusk. In other paintings, the lines transform into brilliant grids or monochromatic graphs that suggest floor maps or skylines. The tall column-like structures placed in the center of the room, however, were the most arresting works shown. These pillars, which appeared to be made out of a multitude of frames within frames of reclaimed wood and metal painted in muted blues, greens, browns and grays, seemed to mimic the infinity-through-repetition often seen in Greek, Roman or Islamic architecture, though in Wei’s case, the repetition is within the construction of a pillar rather than in its multiplication. Created out of salvaged demolition debris, Wei’s large-scale installations looked like they were part of a construction site, while his wall-hung works acted like the site’s floor plans and sections.

Dieter Roth and Bjorn Roth, installation view (with Self Tower and Sugar Tower, both 1994-2013). Courtesy Hauser & Wirth Gallery.

Born in Beijing, China, in 1972, Wei has been working with multi-media for the past 15 years. The exhibition at Lehmann Maupin, which represents a continuation of his 2009 Merely a Mistake series, was his first solo exhibition in the United States. Time and space play a huge part in Wei’s work, which is mostly an exploration of urban settings and the workings of an ever-changing, unstable society. Time, space and form are certainly also definitive elements of the works by the German artists Dieter Roth (1930-98) and his son Bjorn that were also recently on display, at Hauser & Wirth in Chelsea. During the exhibition, two columns (Self Tower and Sugar Tower) were under construction, assembled from casts made at an on-site kitchen. Elsewhere in the spacious gallery, a floor was suspended to create a wall (The Floor I , 1973-1992). The installation Large Table Ruin (1978-1998)—a glorious confusion of wood planks, paints, brushes, tools, decomposing matter, antediluvian technology, ladders, shelves holding rows of glass bottles, cardboard boxes, sheets of paper, light bulbs, wire, a round table and chairs—told a similar story of use and decay. A thin, gray, tangible film of dust sat on top of everything, impartial in its adoption of ashtray, glue, paper, wood, tools, paint, and any and all else that stretched out under its undisputed reign. These works were a testament to the artists’ beliefs that everything about life is inherently bound to art, and that the material surrounding a man’s existence is subservient to the emotional and sensual meaning attached to it. This belief is also captured in the 128 components of Solo Scenes, a video diary created by Dieter Roth between 1997 and 1998 in which the artist “traced his own trajectory through days and places by setting up cameras in his studios in Germany, Switzerland and Iceland.”

William Cordova, "smoke signals (the trans-physics we knew about)," 2011-12. Mixed media and gold leaf on paper, 52 by 100 inches. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

The Roths’ art is as bound to time and space as William Cordova’s; in Cordova’s second solo show at Sikkema Jenkins & Co., time was cited through the use of reclaimed wood, structural drawings, sculptures and paintings. In smoke signals (the trans-physics we knew about), 2011-12, a riot of multi-colored lines explode out of a cube-shaped form at the bottom right of the image. These multitudes of color are perhaps a reference to the transcultural complexity that is so prevalent a theme in Cordova’s work. The background is created out of sheets of gold leaf made to replicate the texture of a brick wall; the same background is repeated in extended improvisations in time (a.b.), 2011-2012, in which the drawing of a structure bearing graffiti is shown suspended mid-air, almost as if it had been lifted off the ground and was in a state of conflict regarding its true place of belonging. According to an essay by artist Ernesto Oroza, Cordova’s work acts as a radio that receives signals simultaneously from across cultures and extracts meaning from them. “The drawings and sculptures seem to behave like a pragmatic repertoire of insurgent structures, a catalogue of ingenious articulations, a systematic revision of the formal and useful value of materials.”

Born in 1971 in Lima, Peru, William Cordova has been interested in transcultural dialogue for most his artistic career. He is not alone in his commitment to reframing history. Liu Wei, and Dieter and Bjorn Roth, also seek to transform the trajectory of time and space by creating ruptures that allow the viewer to reread history through art.

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