On ViewGreene Naftali
May 10 – June 15, 2013
Gedi Sibony’s third solo show at Greene Naftali was a relatively conservative one, though not in any political sense of the term. The abstract collages, paintings, and sculptures on view, made of neutral-colored, plain materials (brown and blue carpets painted in white, beige scraps of paper, clear tape and light brown masking tape, white foam core, discarded aluminum, plywood) echoed long-established tendencies in abstraction, such as Robert Rauschenberg’s experiments with nontraditional materials and Richard Tuttle’s casual approach to art making. At bottom, most of the works felt familiar enough to never be too off-putting or to challenge accepted taste, yet that doesn’t seem to be what Sibony is after. He seems to want simple, handsome objects that are pleasing to look at, and at least some of the works at Greene Naftali reached that standard.
The strongest pieces were a group of eight collages that hung together in the gallery’s front room. Among them, “The Two Most Important Days” (2013) was the best in show. A modest work, it included a beige sheet of paper set against a darker brown one, the two put together with several pieces of masking tape and finally set inside of a dark wood frame. Its asymmetrical slant gave it a sense of dynamism, and the slight variations in color between the paper, tape, and frame played well against one another. But the work was particularly nice only because its precedents were so easy to locate: canonized tendencies like Picasso’s and Braque’s papier collés, or any of Schwitter’s subsequent collage experiments. The piece doesn’t push their art into any new territory, but it does offer a concise if academic reprisal of their once radical discoveries.
The paintings in the show were weaker, which spoke to the limits of Sibony’s own interest in painting as a proper practice. For example, “All Ants Live in the Wild” (2013), a carpet covered in letters painted red and white, was ill-conceived. Sibony is usually quite attentive to the materials he chooses, but it was unclear why the work had to be painted on a discarded rug. The same piece could conceivably have been done on a canvas or linen support, or any other kind of surface. Perhaps he chose it because it was convenient, but that doesn’t seem to be a good enough reason. Moreover, the markings on the picture didn’t relate to one another, aside from having all been letters, nor did they address the carpet as a particular kind of surface. It’s a picture of various parts that don’t add up to a whole.
Still, painting is at the root of Sibony’s practice and it guides the way he thinks about his art. That’s evident even in his sculpture. Right next to “Ceaseless Episodes of Blossom” (2013), a triptych of blue rugs painted in white primer, sat “The Porcelains” (2013), a wood object painted mostly white, resembling the bow of a ship turned on its side. Placed just before the paintings, the 18-inch tall sculpture seemed like a stage from which to view them, and the fact that it was seemingly useful called attention to how useless it actually was. (Why would we need a stand from which to view any painting?) It’s a simple, functionless object that’s compelling because it knows its own limits, and it reveals Sibony’s intelligence at its keenest.
Of all the works on view, “The Porcelains” probably carries the greatest potential for a move forward, even if it isn’t the best work in the show. The collages were stronger overall, but probably too tied to modernist tradition to be a starting point for more original art. If Sibony wants to continue making beautiful works that draw from already established vocabulary, he may want to look to these collages as a jumping off point. But more interesting art—if not necessarily more successful, at least not in the short term—may come from a curious piece like “The Porcelains,” which is the show’s most challenging work. It could very well be the beginning of a new approach. Sibony is a talented artist who may want to think about his work a little differently. The capacity is clearly there; he just has to seize on it more consciously.