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PRINT January 2003

Tim Griffin

WADE GUYTON HAS REFERRED TO HIS SCULPTURES AS drawings in space. No doubt this assertion has something to do with his three-dimensional works’ frequent status as studies. (Indeed, in the past couple of years Guyton has made a number of pieces individually titled Fragment of Sculpture the Size of a House, each corresponding to a structural component of the suburban home the artist intends to construct and paint completely black, sometime in the future.) Yet his statement has as much to do with the physical character of the objects, which can seem crudely superimposed on space, at once underscoring the sculptural aspect of seeing and demonstrating Guyton’s interest in the dynamics of sculpture transposed across media. In his “Fragments,” 2000–, for example, the artist inserts into the gallery environment a large aluminum-and-plywood plane whose irregular geometry and matte black surface interrupt the sight lines and flow of light through the room. The object’s severe angles are totally incongruous with the surroundings, composing a form that apparently slices through space or, more accurately, blots it out like ink on paper. It’s a brilliant kind of dead-zone sculpture: If Gordon Matta-Clark generated disruptions of space by eliminating portions of the built environment—incising the walls or floors, even chainsawing an entire house in half—Guyton does the same using an additive process.

Inspired in part by the odd flattening of his sculptures when they are reproduced in pictures, the artist has lately made a number of “printer drawings,” which will appear in March at Artists Space in New York. These consist of simple patterns printed on photographs taken from art and interior design books of the ’70s and ’80s. A massive X hovers above viewers contemplating a Minimalist sculpture in a gallery at the Walker Art Center in one drawing. In another, a sequence of Xs runs across the image of a public sculpture by Charles Ginnever. (Guyton marks the spot of his art-historical origins and defaces it at the same time.) Elsewhere, one sees how the page might be considered simply one more viewing plane in space: Some drawings depict Xs to be placed in windows, blocking the perspectival view, crossing out the landscape as if it were merely a picture. Paper becomes glass, while art history, re-presented in Guyton’s copies, turns into decor.

Decor is nothing if not desire sublimated into the living environment, and Guyton’s works, which are often strangely anthropomorphic, harbor deep psychological charges. The inanimate borders on the animate, whether objects or art history. The dead is somehow alive in Guyton’s hands. Perhaps that tension arises from the artist’s youth. Raised on slasher flicks—as a child in the ’70s, every Friday he went with his parents to the drive-ins around Knoxville, Tennessee—he admits that his project for a suburban home may have been partially inspired by the bucket-of-blood thriller The Last House on the Left. The shining blades of other such celluloid dwellings also come to mind when one considers Guyton’s columns made of vertical strips of black Plexiglas and mirrored acrylic in gold, smoke, and bronze. The angular works seem to have knifed up violently through the ground. And, as viewers move, reflective surfaces make the sculptures seem to expand and contract as if alive, both consuming architectural space and disappearing into it (with murderous logic).

If there’s a telltale heart buried within this practice, one photographic diptych from 1999 might be it: The pair depicts the Devil’s Hole, a small cavern in Tennessee. The deep focus on rippling rock surfaces makes the pictures verge on abstraction, and lurid inflections of red light and sub-zero flecks of turquoise create a pictorial paradox, with the tunnel at once cold and hot. Stark walls seem sensuous, providing an analogy for all of Guyton’s work, which resuscitates a Minimalism whose heart is still beating under art history’s floorboards. Guyton may have made photographs in caves, but there’s no way he’ll remain underground for long.

Tim Griffin is associate editor of Artforum. A poet, critic, and curator, he is the author of Contamination (Alberico Cetti Serbelloni Editore, 2002), a collection of essays on art, architecture, design, and technology, produced with Peter Halley.