Less than a Door
I recently had the opportunity to see part two of “NU BALNCE,” a three part series of installations by Roman Liška at Rod Barton Gallery. Accompanied by three friends, we arrived at the address of the gallery and were surprised to find a wooden wall with a small, two foot by three foot door, about a foot off the ground. Amused by the whimsical and curious entrance to the space, I became anxiously excited about what lay on the other side. One by one, we each crawled through the miniature door into the gallery.
Huddled in the center of a small, stark white room, we looked around at the walls, then looked at each other with looks of confusion. Back at the walls, and once again back at each other until one of us finally had the audacity to ask the question that was on all of our minds.
“Is this the whole show?”
Although this was not the entire series, it was undoubtably the whole of part two, titled: NU BALANCE: ‘These Are Not Coffee Table Books: They Are Coffee Tables’. Once we had determined that this was in fact all of what we had came to see, we again began the task of looking at the mere four pieces in the space, and again, confusion set in.
To your left, a small dark canvas was hung on the wall. Made up of mesh, spray-paint, chains and grommets, this worked looked like your typical experimental mixed-media piece. On your right, a larger work was propped up against the wall. Another mixed-media work, it involved a spray-painted plastic bored with a second canvas attached to the front. The second canvas was covered in thick paint which was spray-painted with a metallic finish to create a shiny, bubbly texture to juxtapose the very flat, plastic bored behind it.
In front of you hung a canvas made of only the thick paint-drippings, although this time it was painted white, rather than metallic. In front of the painting sat two chairs at a coffee table. The coffee table was a mixture of metallic and white spray-paint, mimicking the finish of the flat plastic bored. A white vase with flowers was placed in the center of the table.
Trying to take in the show as a whole was not difficult, as you could easily view all four pieces without even turning your head. What was difficult however, was trying to understand a purpose, concept, intention or connection between any of the pieces.
Take the first two for instance. They were hung across from each other, indicated a conversation or connection, yet after looking at both of them for sometime, I couldn’t come up with any sort of conclusion. I moved on to the coffee table, and found myself wondering what exactly was the piece? Were the chairs part of the installation, or were they intended to be used for viewing the work from a different angle? Was the vase and flowers part of the piece? Was this perhaps an attempted commentary on interior design, or the idea of conversation with the two chairs slightly angled towards each other? Giving as much effort as I was, and I was still unable to conclude any concrete concept to the show.
Following the theories of Roland Barthes, I would say that in the absence of an author, this show failed. Without a written explanation, I was unable to conclude any intended concept. I inquired of the gallery-sitter if there was a press release. What I was handed did little, or no help whatsoever. All it taught me was there was an overly convoluted and ambiguous explanation to what I was seeing, and without a degree in linguistics and political science I would fail at trying to grasp the explanation. I also learned that, no, the two chairs were not part of the piece at all, so my one, somewhat valid conclusion about the show was a complete mistake.
The only thing left of value in the show then, was the interesting processes and marks on the canvases. Sol LeWitt however, explains that this is no concept either. He states: “New materials are one of the great afflictions of contemporary art. Some artists confuse new materials with new ideas. There is nothing worse than seeing art that wallows in gaudy baubles. By and large most artists who are attracted to those materials are the ones that lack the stringency of mind that would enable them to use the materials well.” (1)
I turned around and looked at that tiny door and began to feel uncomfortable and claustrophobic. The disappointment in the show made me even more anxious to climb out that curious little door than I was to enter.
1. Sol LeWitt, ‘Paragraphs on Conceptual Art’, in Art in Theory 1900-2000 (Massachusetts, 2003, Blackwell Publishing) New Edition p. 848