by Chris SharpMarch 14, 2018
Cerith Wyn Evans
I’m not usually a fan of art about art, for the simple reason that it tends to perpetuate the potential solipsism of a perilously self-involved discipline, but something about Cerith Wyn Evans and his consistent ability to transmute art-historical references into quasi-mystical arcana has always struck me as agreeably mystifying. As such, I feel like he cogently, if urbanely, conveys one of the greatest secrets of art: that it is a secret. Or at least this is what I tell myself while walking around his first monographic exhibition in Mexico, as people rush around to take selfies in front of elaborate neon sculptures hanging from the ceiling. Virtually and refreshingly devoid of didactic wall labels, the exhibition both secretly and not-so-secretly (if you are an adept of the cult of Art) teems with references to some of the more recondite practitioners of art in the 20th century. I can’t help but wonder how the general public gains access to works that directly cite Marcel Duchamp or Marcel Broodthaers? The short answer to my rhetorical question is: they don’t. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s enough to obscurely intuit that just beyond the mere appearance of a given thing lies a vast, involuted network of history, aesthetic commitment, and cognitive labor? This is, after all, precisely what I look for when encountering art: I want to feel like an artist has placed a thing in front me which is like an endlessly strange and intriguing puzzle whose solution I can barely begin to fathom.
All that said, the mood of this elegantly detached show fluctuates between subdued spectacle and hushed liminality. A selection of twelve works from the past ten years, the exhibition is a sparsely installed affair. The main space features a trio of hanging neon light sculptures—Neon Forms (After Noh II), Neon Forms (after Noh III), and The Illuminating Gas… (after Oculist Witnesses) (all 2015)—as well as a sound work, T=R=A=N=S=F=E=R=E=N=C=E (Frequency shifting paradigms in streaming audio) (2012), which is placed in a corner and is so discreet that it is possible to miss. Allegedly referring to Noh theater and functioning as “scores,” both versions of Neon Forms leap down from the ceiling with a calligraphic and truncated dynamism which touches upon the lyrical. Meanwhile, The Illuminating Gas, which refers to the Oculist Witnesses in Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (1915–23), consists of three, successive radial forms, which, incidentally, look like they could almost be a luminous still from László Moholy-Nagy’s 1930 film Light Play: Black-White-Gray. The lower level features the above-mentioned riff off of Broodthaers’s Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (1969), entitled S=H=A=D=E (Evacuate) (2017), which essentially consists of the same work with Mallarmé’s text, which Broodthaers blocks out in black, here cut out (picture player piano music). Not far from these lurks yet another reference to the Belgian conceptualist and his Un Jardin d’Hiver (1974) in the form of Still life (in course of arrangement…) II (2015), which is comprised of two illuminated palm trees which rotate on turntables and cast shadows on the walls behind them. A nearby, hanging transparent sculpture, Composition for 19 Flutes (2015), whose fluid, curvilinear structure brings to mind an alien form, contains 19 different glass flutes which seem less to play a composition than to whisper some kind of glossolalia. Adjacent are a pair of hanging chandeliers, Sutra (Patio Central) and Mantra (Sala II) (both 2017), created according to the artist’s specifications by Galliano Ferro in Murano, which periodically flash on according to a piano composition written and played by the artist.
Were I to reproach this exhibition for anything, it would be the very hackneyed art speak used to mediate it. For instance, the claim conveyed in the introductory wall text that Wyn Evans “creates moments of rupture within existing structures of communication” seems a bit fanciful to me. If anything, these so-called ruptures are but a further encoding, even entrenchment, into the highly codified esoterica of contemporary art (nothing signifies “contemporary art” like neon). This is probably best exemplified in E=C=L=I=P=S=E (2015), which hangs in and dominates the atrium of the museum. This massive paragraph-long neon text, which is written in English, describes the progress of a solar eclipse across several continents. All but unreadable, due to the complicated interplay of natural light and neon, the words dissolve into luminescent illegibility. There is a metaphor here. Rather than spell it out, maybe it is enough to say that it has something to do with language, light, adumbration, death, and finally, art.
- 1Cerith Wyn Evans, E=C=L=I=P=S=E, 2015. Photo by Nicolò Degiorgis. Courtesy of Museion Bozen/Bolzano
- 2View of “Cerith Wyn Evans,” Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, 2018. Photo: Agustín Garza.
- 3Cerith Wyn Evans, S=U=T=R=A, 2017. Photo by Rebecca Fanuele. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris, and London.
- 4Cerith Wyn Evans, Neon Forms (after Noh II), 2015. Photo by George Darrell. Courtesy of White Cube.
- 5Cerith Wyn Evans, Neon Forms (after Noh III), 2015. Photo by George Darrell. Courtesy of White Cube.
- 6Cerith Wyn Evans, The Illuminating Gas... (after Oculist Witnesses), 2015. Photo by George Darrell. Courtesy of White Cube.
- 7View of “Cerith Wyn Evans,” Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, 2018. Photo by Agustín Garza.
- 8View of “Cerith Wyn Evans,” Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, 2018. Photo by Agustín Garza.
- 9View of “Cerith Wyn Evans,” Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, 2018. Photo by Agustín Garza.
- 10View of “Cerith Wyn Evans,” Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, 2018. Photo by Agustín Garza.
FRIDMAN GALLERY, New York
VARIOUS LOCATIONS, Athens
UNIVERSITY ART MUSEUM AT CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, Long Beach