Critics’ Picks

Gerard Byrne, A thing is a hole in a thing it is not, 2011, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

Gerard Byrne, A thing is a hole in a thing it is not, 2011, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

Chicago

Gerard Byrne

The Renaissance Society
5811 South Ellis Avenue Cobb Hall, 4th floor
January 9–February 27, 2011

A thing is a hole in a thing it is not, Gerard Byrne’s 2010 multichannel film installation, takes its title from Carl Andre’s Minimalist credo, which first appeared as the title of an essay by Robert Smithson in the June 1967 issue of Artforum. It is both ironic and apt that Andre’s circuitous dictum on being and absence now provides a framework for an equally reverberant meditation on Minimalism’s historical reception. In this, as in past works, Byrne utilizes historical documents as raw material that he restages in filmed reenactments, often with actors. Five films are projected separately on thick white walls angled such that they evoke freestanding Minimalist forms. Several works re-create events that have come to be regarded as pivotal junctures in that movement’s history: Tony Smith’s epiphanic car ride along the New Jersey Turnpike; the toppling of Robert Morris’s Column, 1962; and a 1964 radio interview of Donald Judd, Frank Stella, and Dan Flavin by critic Bruce Glaser, which was subsequently published with Flavin’s contributions redacted. In another projection, works by these artists are shown in situ at the Van Abbemuseum. Installed for the express purpose of being filmed, these canonical art objects now reside somewhere between document and performance, between things and the holes in things they are not.

The films’ errant audio trajectories cast visitors into a larger encompassing form that acts much like an echo chamber. The words spoken in one film bounce into the auditory field of another, resulting in a babble of enticing sound bites that cannot be reconstituted into a discursive whole. This, Byrne’s provocative installation suggests, may well be the stuff from which all history is made—and continually remade.