Critics’ Picks

Jonathan Monk, The Sound of Music (A Record With the Sound of Its Own Making), 2007, vinyl, outer sleeve, black-and-white photographic print, sleeve dimensions 12 1/4 x 12 3/8”, print size 12 x 12”.

New York

“Today I Made Nothing”

Elizabeth Dee Gallery
2033/2037 Fifth Avenue
June 20–September 18

Alejandro Cesarco’s print Why Work?, 2008, imagines the table of contents to a book that doesn’t exist. Along with his unwritten introduction, “Arguments for the Leisure Society,” Cesarco lists several classic critiques of labor, such as Paul Lafargue’s “The Right to be Lazy” (1883) and Raoul Vaneigem’s “The Decline and Fall of Work” (1967). Cesarco thus stockpiles justifications for refusing to work—and, to an extent, acts on them as well: He gestures toward the possibility of a book but shirks the effort involved in actually producing one. That said, Why Work? is undoubtedly itself the outcome of time devoted to design, research, and extensive reading. The degree to which Cesarco evades “labor” depends largely on how you understand the term. “Today I Made Nothing,” organized by Tim Saltarelli, investigates the difficulty in defining labor today, when ceaseless activity may have nothing to show for itself, and when refusing to work just might prove perversely productive.

Discussions of such ironies often reference the rubric “immaterial labor,” yet several of Saltarelli’s selections locate the contradictions inherent to today’s working conditions within material forms. For instance, the four upholstered panels that comprise Mika Tajima’s A Facility Based on Change, 2010, at first appear consistent with the visual vocabulary of the artist’s prior sculptures, which have served as backdrops to musical performances. In fact, the panels are repurposed components from the Herman Miller Action Office, the 1960s precursor to the ubiquitous cubicle. Performance and administration, it turns out, can occur in remarkably similar confines.

Jonathan Monk likewise mashes two eras in The Sound of Music (A Record with the Sound of Its Own Making), 2007. An LP embedded with the recording of the pressing that created it, the multiple harks back to Robert Morris’s Box with the Sound of Its Own Making, 1961. In that earlier piece, a nearly three-hour tape recording directly relates to the time it took to construct a wooden box. In Monk’s variation, that correspondence between hours spent and final product breaks off into tautology: Recording elapsed time results in a record of elapsed time. Given Morris’s involvement in the Art Workers’ Coalition, the piece implicitly asks how artists should respond to today’s unstable labor conditions: help define their new parameters, or unravel them even further?