The King and the Corpse
On ViewGreene Naftali Gallery
March 22 – May 5, 2018
One of my professors in college started off the first lecture of his history of the theory of architecture by saying “architecture is NOT frozen music” (to negatively paraphrase Goethe). I learned later and more painfully, about five years afterwards, that architecture is not big sculpture either, which leads to the question posed by Gedi Sibony’s central work The King and the Corpse (2018) in his current exhibition; can sculpture pretend to be architecture, and vice versa? It’s remarkable that a scarred and rusted pre-fab steel shell can segue so poetically into a discussion of the interiority and exteriority of objects, but the enigmatic angular white enameled piece he has installed in the gallery lends itself well to the conversation—its purpose is mysterious—some kind of housing for big mechanical objects, and its dimensions are perfectly matched to the artist’s project. The King and the Corpse is a room-within-a-room and fills the main gallery to such an extent—from floor-to-ceiling with a walk-able, but not too capacious path around—that it’s impossible to get far enough away from the sculpture to gauge its true nature as a structure. It’s all sides and angles, but no sense of a whole. Once inside, the sensation is like that of being in the Statue of Liberty’s head, the nature of the interior has little personality, instead we become cognizant more of how the piece lives in the gallery. The walls are the thickness of metal sheeting, no more than a sixteenth of an inch, which is registered through several openings large and small. The structure has little presence. Unlike a solid masonry temple of any number of cultural allegiances, or an Antony Gormley sculpture which we have been allowed the privilege of crawling into, Sibony presents a philosophical argument in real space and eliminates the sculpture part as much as the architectural bit: like a magician explaining a trick or finally seeing the monster at the end of a horror film, the nature of illusion is entirely about our perception of what we thought we were seeing: being inside the object looking out isn’t analogous to being inside architecture.
The three other sculptures in the exhibition are similarly engineered to toy with our perceptions and leave us guessing at the nature of artfulness. Even a “found” object begins to change the moment it is placed in a new environment. Each of these objects has undergone slight modifications by the artist in terms of placement, lighting, or even physical interventions in the corporeal body of the object. These changes mimic the varying degrees of tweaking Duchamp enacted on his readymades: placing them on pedestals, visibly signing them, and even bolting them together. Each change in the original precipitates a new level of consideration in the eye of the beholder.
Both The Spell Blinder (2018) and The Shivered (2015) are carefully lit so as to cast no shadows on the wall. This avoids any interpretation a la Sue Webster and Tim Noble that there is a hidden meaning lurking in the vicinity of these objects or in their actual composition. The Shivered is a largely flattened bird cage, which like The King and the Corpse questions three-dimensionality, this time by compression into a cubist format. The Spell Blinder is a section of vertical blinds relocated from a window or door to the center of a room. Now deprived of its usefulness—as are all found objects in galleries, in practical terms—we examine its form and question its purpose as we would a supposedly ritual object in a museum. Does form automatically connote sculpture when placed on display? Or more intriguingly, does a Kouros with a distinctly practical use-value in its time connote art, now that it’s in a museum? Sibony’s fourth piece, The Serpentine Force (2006 – 2018) is composed of several fragments of shelving and a lightning bolt shaped piece of plywood. All the components have been painted and even though they still contain the kernel of their one-time use, they have clearly been manipulated and arranged in order to become something more. The Serpentine Force traces the process by which a found object sheds its random nature and crosses the boundary into a “crafted” art object. Like the animated corpse carried on the back of the king that cannot stop asking riddles and telling stories, and driving him to distraction, the works in the exhibition endlessly raise questions that have no answer, and primarily among them, can we sense the change between objects once we designate them art?