Critics’ Picks

Ian Markell, RISER, 2018, carpet, wood, galvanized steel, laser printed image of three presumed gay men, Plexiglas, hardware, 18 x 16 x 120".

Los Angeles

Ian Markell

Bad Reputation
2007 Wilshire Blvd Suite 729
June 1–July 29

In 1977, Douglas Crimp explicated a turn in pictorial signification—a gradual distancing of image from context that freed up the imaginary. In this distance, both psychological and material, the caption takes on a solemnity, as these spectral pictures—resistant to meaning, hospitable to vagaries—now house secrets. Social media has since changed our relationship to pictures, with captions facilitating not just meaning but, increasingly, monetization. Moments of secrecy are all the more noteworthy for their evasion of capitalist mechanisms.

Ian Markell seems indebted to secrets, the dispossessed kind. His sculptures become hosts for the strange or foreign. For instance, the steel pipe and half-moon of Plexiglas affixed to a worn wooden tabletop in HUB99 (all works 2018) are odd appendices but not particularly referential. Similarly, the roll of canvas nestled inside an inoperable street lamp (0.72AMP ARM) appears precisely measured to fit but reveals little about its significance. RISER operates differently: A shoddily carpeted DJ platform retrofitted with a clear cubby safeguards several underexposed photographs. Gracing the top of the stack are three men wearing white shirts. The impulse toward concealment is undermined by the medium noted on the checklist: “laser printed image of three presumed gay men.”

That disclosures of this kind get sheltered within a DJ platform isn’t unprecedented, recalling the empty stages in Chameleon Club, 2002–2004, a photographic series by Kevin McCarty of gay bars across Los Angeles. The depicted platforms serve as spaces for rehearsing queerness. The same can be obliquely said of Markell’s constructed intervention: A locked vault contains traces of context, a note that remains both private and public, marking the potential for a caption to reframe subjectivities without commodifying them.