Critics’ Picks

David J. Merritt, Array vI.I,  2013, aluminum, victory wax, sculpting wax, Sex Wax. Installation view.

David J. Merritt, Array vI.I, 2013, aluminum, victory wax, sculpting wax, Sex Wax. Installation view.

New York

David J. Merritt

KANSAS Gallery
210 Rivington Street
April 6–May 12, 2013

For his latest exhibition, David J. Merritt brought in a utility locator employed by the city to spray-paint neon-orange lines demarcating the water pipes and electrical lines that run under and above the gallery. The markings evoke a construction site tailor-made for Merritt’s work, one which keeps his ambitious, boundary-breaking deployment of sculpture, painting, video, and photography from conceptually crumbling apart.

Merritt’s “templates” on view are molds of a sort: negative impressions of experiences he has as he lets his hands and arms roam in rectangular boxes filled with ceramic clay. Pulling and prodding the viscous material, he forms metastatic chance manipulations that then harden into about-face totems of poured-in gypsum cement. The artist claims he came into sculpture by way of film, and while, with these objects, he exorcises actual motion, leaving just fossil records, the pieces are no less ridden with narcissism than film is. His time, his fingers, even his saliva and hair get thrown into the physical process, churning out an anatomy, literally and abstractly, of his operations. Template CS-G (all works 2013) appears to have a brachial bone embedded within the cement. One’s perception of the work’s “limb” meets the awareness of one’s own forearm—an inclusive relationship of the sort that dates back to the paintings of Piero della Francesca.

In the back room, the steel “zips” that make up Array V1.1 are reminiscent of Barnett Newman but repeat like a Judd series. They are installed beside the locator’s last spray-painted gesture: a dot that terminates in a dash, which happens to stand for A in Morse code. In effect dematerializing the wall by signifying a presence beyond, this painterly shorthand challenges Minimalist notions of the wall as the end of viewing space and transforms the five zips beside it into more than a mere rehashing of Newman and Judd. Upon closer examination, each vertical bar surrenders the prefab appearance of its references, betraying either dents or discolorations caused by Merritt’s gestural errors. Peering at them from their right side exposes another hidden-from-view feature—a fleshy undercoating made of Sex Wax behind the steel—revealed like the solution to a cryptogram, or a momentarily up-lifted skirt. We’re all Peeping Toms, the artist seems to say, curious about medium and its specificity.