Time Out New York / Sep 11–17, 2008

Chris Moukarbel

It’s not often that you step off a Manhattan elevator onto a floor of crumbling mud, but visit Art in General and such is the incongruous welcome you’ll receive. The modern-primitive finish comes courtesy of Chris Moukarbel in the latest part of his ongoing series IN/OUT. The sprawling installation, filling the sixth floor, is actually composed of numerous adobe bricks and the simple equipment—buckets, boards, shovels, and ladder-like wooden molds—used in their manufacture.

It doesn’t sound very sophisticated, but in fact there’s rather too much going on, visually and conceptually, in Moukarbel’s work. Far from replicating the formalist cool of that most notorious brick sculpture, Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII (1966) (the Tate Gallery’s purchase of which made it an exemplar of “difficult” Minimalism), IN/OUT arrives weighed down with references. Echoes of Robert Smithson and Joseph Beuys, Arte Povera and the Japanese Gutai group are clear in themselves, but combine here to muddy (sorry) the artist’s own aim, a politicized critique of the mechanisms of labor.

IN/OUT also looks, despite its ultra-basic motif, oddly cluttered. Anxious perhaps about producing something too bare-bones, Moukarbel exploits every visual incident his process allows, from mucky handprints on the wall to Stonehenge-like stacks. Unfortunately, the improvisation feels arbitrary and contrived, introduced in the service of a nebulous “site-reponsiveness.” In contrast, the powerful simplicity of Walter De Maria’s New York Earth Room (1977), housed a few blocks away at 141 Wooster Street, continues to resonate. Moukarbel should stop by for a refresher.

Image: View of "Chris Mourkabel," 2008