Time Out New York / Feb 18–24, 2010
Gelitin’s last solo show in a New York gallery, at Leo Koenig Inc. in 2005, hinged on the act of collaborative creation—or, better, re-creation—as the Austrian group secreted themselves inside a huge art-making “machine” and churned out eccentric interpretations of objects inserted by visitors. (In one apocryphal case, a real baby emerged as a plastic doll.) Three years later, at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the four merry pranksters reproduced the entire contents of the Louvre, improving on one famous original to the tune of several dozen plasticine Mona Lisas. But while such projects may trouble those in thrall to high production values or the inviolable Old Masters (not to mention responsible parenting), they have a serious art-historical and theoretical heritage. Although readily accessible at the level of messy, mischievous fun, they also beg interpretation in the context of formal and conceptual ploys dating back to Dada.
To produce Blind Sculpture, the rambling, multipart, vaguely biomorphic installation that currently occupies most of Greene Naftali, Gelitin employed several dozen artists and art-world players as their “very professional assistants.” The handpicked teams helped Ali Janka, Florian Reither, Tobias Urban and Wolfgang Gantner—a band of friends who purportedly met as kids at summer camp—create the work, which is just as well, since the foursome were wearing blindfolds. I stopped by the gallery twice during construction, once to watch Liam Gillick, Karen Azoulay, Chris Rosa and Spencer Sweeney in action, and again to see what Michael Smith, Casey Spooner, Adam McEwen, Slava Mogutin and Jim Drain might have to add. (Salvator Viviano and Schuyler Maehl were also present daily). These and several other crews each worked in the gallery for four hours at a time, and the sum of their week or so’s communal labor will be on display for the remainder of the show.
“It’s like talking to somebody about sex who’s never had sex,” Gillick’s wife, painter and filmmaker Sarah Morris, laughed during her visit to the work-in-progress. She was referring, presumably, to the difficulty of describing what was going on, or of explaining what the point of it all might be. Morris addressed her remark to the lanky, frizzy-haired Reither, who was clad in stilettos and skintight yellow shorts (Gelitin has a persistent tendency to let it all hang out). Their conversation was accompanied by the sound of a piano—played in a loose but not unmusical style by another (naked) member of the group—and a buzz of activity. Surrounding them was an extraordinary jumble of objects and raw materials which were still slowly being assembled into a precarious structure resembling an abandoned game of Mouse Trap or a Dr. Seuss illustration made flesh.
Postperformance, Azoulay talked me through her Blind Sculpture experience. “There was no discussion or plan,” she revealed, “we just jumped in. I think the group had vaguely memorized the available materials before the first day so they knew what to ask for. I rummaged for tools and cut bits of wire and tape, but also gave suggestions on how the work could be built and described what it looked like. The trickiest part was ensuring the artists’ safety.” She describes watching Reither saw wood as he perched on a teetering stool. “I couldn’t help thinking how horrible it would be for someone to get hurt!” She left the gallery splattered in plaster but generally pleased with her contribution. “Florian asked the audience to rate what we’d done and they broke into applause.”
That Gelitin often makes use of techniques and images associated with childhood (in 2005, they installed a vast, toilet-paper pink knitted rabbit on a hillside in the Italian Alps) links their practice with a plethora of creative endeavors influenced by psychoanalysis—from Art Brut and Surrealism to the “abject” art of the mid-’90s and the manic, pop-culture-infused performances of Paul McCarthy and Jonathan Meese. Blind Sculpture and its ilk are also built on Allan Kaprow’s formulation of the semi-improvised “happening,” and the group consciously positions their playful deconstruction of exhibition conventions as a humorous extrapolation of the self-reflexive interventionism associated with relational aesthetics. Ultimately, however, the success of Blind Sculpture lies in its capacity to remind both viewers and participants that the experience of art permits—indeed implies—the active coexistence of multiple perspectives, none of which need be po-faced or predictable. And while the work may not win awards for loveliness, it does make an enjoyable case for the dynamic relation of process and product—even if, like, Gelitin themselves, one sees only the end result.
Image: Gelitin, installation view