Critics’ Picks

Gregory Bae, It Shall All Be Mine (#2), 2015, magnetized atomic clock, magnets, acrylic, engraving on glass, 11 x 11 x 2".

Gregory Bae, It Shall All Be Mine (#2), 2015, magnetized atomic clock, magnets, acrylic, engraving on glass, 11 x 11 x 2".

Chicago

Gregory Bae

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA Chicago)
220 East Chicago Avenue
June 28, 2022–January 29, 2023

The history of Conceptual art is marked by an obsession with systems. Sol LeWitt’s modular constructions, Hanne Darboven’s calendrical number lists, and On Kawara’s date paintings reveal a fetishistic, nearly maniacal devotion to organizational devices and deductive structures. The fault lines of this procedural approach to artmaking are gathered together in this exhibition of works by Gregory Bae (1986–2021). Examining what happens when serial production falls out of rhythm, or when the repetitive pacing of the artist-copyist glitches and comes to a standstill, Bae offers a scratched record of Conceptualist strategies.

To make Ex Radios, 2019, Bae cut apart a number of instruction manuals for machines he owned and cared for, focusing on the white space between paragraphs, words, and individual letters, and then nestled the excised papers between layers of packing tape. This confetti of repurposed marginalia is spliced together with isolated punctuation marks (hyphens and periods are the most clearly represented), contributing to the work’s emphasis on blank points of pause, on breakages in communicative flow.

Bae’s quite literal evasion of machinic language in Ex Radios is matched by the poetical dysfunction of 24-7, 365 (#5), 2017. Here we find a tire painted with the yellow, pink and blue of the South Korean sam taegeuk symbol—a variation of which sits at the center of the nation’s flag—spinning on a treadmill that turns on and off twice an hour. Caught behind a bar, the tire, when spurred into action, rotates in place, leaving behind a painterly residue on the exercise machine’s black belt. Continually restarted, never resolved, Bae’s apparatus is defined by false starts looped ad infinitum. His altered atomic clock, It Shall All Be Mine (#2), 2015, is similarly (and ingeniously) “defective.” With the help of magnets, Bae designed his apparatus to interminably tick in place—the clock’s hands involuntarily seize, trapped in time. Here and elsewhere, Bae pointedly limns the abyssal emotions of stasis and cyclical return that animate the exhibition, placing the artist’s untimely death into sharp and haunting relief.