It sometimes happens that just as you've got two things in your field of vision, a common denominator appears and hooks them up. On the last morning of a recent trip to New York, I made an early exit from the Queens apartment where I was staying to have coffee with an art historian whose writing I like. As luck would have it, the trip coincided with an exhibition of new work by Wade Guyton, who this art historian had written about in his best known essay, which had to do with the way that paintings can mimic and engage the structures surrounding them. The show at the Petzel Gallery – a sanctuary of rectilinear whiteness – comprised several immense, horizontally-oriented canvasses, made perfectly to measure for the gallery's walls. These canvasses held black monochromes produced with a huge inkjet printer, and riven with fissures from folding and rough handling. Following our coffee meeting, I fell victim to a momentary short circuit of self-consciousness, and made the decision to email the art historian, in order to say that
I liked the show's immersive quality, and the way it played with scale. Somehow, the folds and creases and imperfections seemed like they should be from a world of smaller objects. They felt uncanny in that overwhelming format. I suppose that's because I'm not used to encountering the machinery of printing on such a large scale. The paintings seemed to mimic the ribbon on a typewriter, or some analogue to it, and that set in motion a weird circuit between the very apparent contemporaneity of Guyton's process, and a group of anachronistic forces: painting, the monochrome, the timelessness of ink, as a medium.
I really did think those things. Although I had recent experiences to thank. On the way to the gallery, for example, I had made an unplanned but fortuitous stop at Printed Matter, the storied art-book store, which doubles as an immersive palimpsest of the relationship between small scale printing and art. Additionally, a couple of weeks earlier, I had been to the Surrey Public Library to see the new building (inspired by another modernist sanctuary in New York, The Guggenheim) and Liz Magor's Marks (2011) within it: four three dimensional punctuation marks (ambiguously apostrophes, quotations, or commas) made of black silicone, each about the size of a barca-lounger, and squat, with billowy profiles. Pictured from the side, in a photograph on the library's website, they look like Oldenburgian drops of crude. They aren't smooth but have surfaces marked up by cutting and scraping tools, and human bodies: imprints from hands, zippers, and sewn seams. In this way, classically modern factures, reminiscent of Rodin, are transposed over small bits of hardware from the quiet colossus of word processing, here made large and receptive to the bodies that carry the eyes, which are the necessary collaborators with that technology.
Wade Guyton's paintings and Liz Magor's Marks are of a piece. One has ink, prior to the coalescence of characters, behaving as dumb entity waiting to be encountered, rather than interpreted. The other mimics ink, and then proceeds to amplify the character into a haptic dimension. It follows that the works are counterparts on multiple planes. Both move in an idea world whose ether is the correspondence between the technological reproducibility of thought, and bodies, which are always, though not always obviously, much more than armatures or attendants to that process.
Image: Wade Guyton's Inkjets at the Petzel Gallery.
Read Mitch Speed and others in TCR 3.23