On ViewGreene Naftali Gallery
October 22 – December 4, 2010
Since the railroad-style building next door to my apartment is adjacent to a parking lot, I can see its entire inside wall as a façade rather than a continuous row of houses. This bleached yellow vinyl siding is attached in foot-wide, horizontal striations that span the entire length of the building. This pattern has a satisfying order, in a Modernist ethos. It lends a sense of stalwart permanence to the otherwise flimsy structure. In the past couple months, though, a wind storm has dislodged two adjoining strips of a car’s length, causing the wobbly material to flop away from the building in a loopy arch along the lot’s sidewalk.
At first I felt compelled to return the siding to its original position. Its refusal to behave as intended, though, has become surprising and provocative. As I’ve stared from my desk window into the parking lot, I have fixated on this proposition of urban neglect. It occurred to me: Gedi Sibony would love this wonky, displaced vinyl siding. I can imagine Sibony, who is a known hoarder of things, lovingly ferrying the vinyl segments to his studio. In an exhibition, he might install them in an eloquent gesture recalling a Robert Morris felt piece—draped from the wall, cascading to the floor.
This fantasy of aesthetic possibility raises central questions of context, process, and intention in Sibony’s work. Does the sculpture require a white cube in order to be meaningfully experienced? Is his work simply one of selection or does an actual transformation occur in his contextual displacement? Irreverence toward a material’s original function (and context), preciousness in its preservation, and fetishization of its form (divorced from its original function) are central to Sibony’s sensibility, and apparent in his current exhibition at Greene Naftali Gallery.
Sibony’s deeply mediated presentation determines that the amount of space surrounding a rickety, two-by-four-lumber-based structure in “Asleep Outside The Wall” (2010) (suggesting a Trojan horse from one view and an oversimplified, third-world slum shanty from another) constitutes aesthetic or semantic clout, suggesting that the less information he gives, the more meaning he creates. Also, by hanging a reversed carpet on the wall, as in “The Center, and Skinny Legs, Satisfying The Purposes Completely, Her Trumpeted Spoke Lastly” (2010), Sibony disrupts the way we read cues of conventional display—that paintings hang on the wall, while rugs go on the floor. He also drapes irregular, unstretched shapes of raw canvas from the gallery corner in “Who Attracts All That is Named” (2010).
Post-Dave Hickey’s The Invisible Dragon essays, I am extremely reluctant to use the word beauty in discussing Sibony’s sculptures. I don’t think Sibony intends to engage in any overt politics, at least as Hickey explains politics. Nonetheless, this show has challenged my expectations of what level of material transformation constitutes aesthetic experience. If Yves Klein pursued the immaterial through an audacious dematerialization of the art object, then Sibony is striving for something somewhere in between what is aestheticized and what is poised to appear aestheticized by cues external to the art object, such as theatricality, placement, and appearance. Also, the real time experience of a body in space is important in Sibony’s work, leaving the photographic documentation of the exhibition alluring, yet ultimately hollow.
I’m not sure if the resulting effect is poetic. Sometimes Sibony’s work feels transformed beyond its material means, such as in the James Turrell-esque room of light; sometimes a sofa with a cut-out deer silhouette and scattered sheets is just that. Except in a gallery. And the sofa is hovering above the floor. As a matter of fact, the titles’ obtuse and obscuring sensibilities seem anti-poetical in their refusal, like the sculptures themselves, to tell you anything beyond indeterminate impressions. Or is that a certain brand of poetics? Sibony’s titles sometimes appear to be a product of a Dadaist assemblage and other times verge on a saccharine sort of sentimentality, as in “The Brighter Grows the Lantern.”
Sibony’s care with words also applies to his craft. Meant to appear roughly cut, jagged and haphazard, the construction of “The Cutters” (2007–2010) is as intentional and meticulous as the draped-canvas framing of the hollow-core door on the rear wall. (Sibony is particularly adept at composing views with architectural elements in space.) To say this piece of craggy, unfinished wall was a send-up of Gordon Matta-Clark would be missing a distinction in their varying engagements of process. Urs Fischer’s 2006 Whitney Biennial interior alterations behaved in a way similar to Sibony’s architecture constructions. In Sibony and Fischer, their aesthetic ends defeat their means, unlike Matta-Clark’s engagement in urban, socio-economic issues.
Although his work has been tirelessly compared to the Arte Povera movement, environmental concerns and politics are noticeably absent here (even if Sibony is said to be anti-institutional in his shoddy touch). Discussing Sibony with regard to Postminimalism accounts for neither his pathos of degeneration in terms of material identity and function, nor his pseudo-preservationalist stance vis-à-vis what is sometimes plainly garbage. Robert Rauschenberg’s cardboard box pieces, currently on view at Gagosian, are striking precedents for Sibony’s transformation of materials, though Rauschenberg aestheticized these boxes comparatively little, even while they both translate materials with precious, miniscule steps, or none at all. Rauschenberg’s cardboard sculptures are more generous, less homogenizing, and display material curiosity rather than withholding it.
All of this said, my thoughts ultimately return to the readymade Sibony in the outside world. What does it say if something can resemble a Gedi Sibony? For all his strategies for not making a “Gedi Sibony,” does this suggest he has in fact packaged his moves for this exhibition? I’m not sure it really matters: after all, it’s not a Gedi Sibony sculpture until it’s placed in a gallery. This is the world in which his work challenges our visual endurance and tolerance for what constitutes meaningful aesthetic experience.