New York

Scott Billingsley

Whitney Museum of American Art

Scott Billingsly’s piece Induction also needs to be plugged in. After a long walk to the Whitney downtown workroom and gallery in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, I was standing in front of this plasterboard box the size of a shower stall. I waited for a wire coming out of it to be hooked up to a corroded old transformer in a corner of the room. This clicked on. Noiseless; no hum. A coil inside, I was told, had been magnetized. I climbed up the ladder on one side of the box. This was thin, like the ladders running up water storage tanks are thin in proportion to the tank. Descending inside the thing I thought of that movie moment when James Bond shoves Doctor No into the heavy water surrounding the villain’s nuclear pile, and the way No’s artificial hand claws futilely for a purchase as he sinks. Inside Induction, I stared at the widely spaced red wires running a spiral up the side through neat holes drilled in the supporting beams. I felt nothing, and I’m about the same height and build as Billingsley. Maybe I felt a little heavier, or more tired. But then the box made me claustrophobic, and I was getting my balance cues in a place that wasn’t open space. I pulled out my keys and they just hung there not moving.

Outside again, and some guy was talking about a book of old photos he’d seen of pioneer high voltage engineer Nikola Tesla walking around his generator rooms wearing shoes with what must have been the original platform heels. So? That’s as good as anything to say about a big weak magnet called an artwork. Induction looks like some Minimal shape arrived at by deduction from sculptural homilies. Taking a cue and inducing, I could say that the piece is microcosmic—the earth itself a magnetic field, and we don’t feel. peculiar sensations because of that. But it’s sad to boil this thing down to a canny joke about modes of thought. Does Billingsley score points for actualizing the potential energy in the mass of reductive sculpture from the last decade? Does some measure of sculptural quality reside in electricity? Or in building a machine that might make you feel something? I’m confused.

Alan Moore