New York

Mary Miss

Max Protetch

There are three new structures by Mary Miss, all scaled to the gallery and all termed “Falsework.” The show also includes much information in the form of reference—notes, preparatory drawings, and photographs of work built elsewhere.

None of the “False works” are single structures. Falsework: Screen consists of three wood platforms set on the floor ten feet or so in front of a wood screen; behind the screen is a boxlike form on stilts. The structure looks familiar, yet, as it is open to any address and is bare of any marks, it is hard to say quite what it is or what its sources may be. Here one resorts to the artist’s notes, where, among a reference to a book on Islamic architecture and a reminder to look at a screen at the Metropolitan, there is a line or two about a form of worship. It seems then that this Falsework is a temple of sorts.

But of course it isn’t. At best, “temple” is an allusion; the structure is unadorned, detached from cultural context. That is, it seems empty as emblem, empty of context, use and meaning. One wonders to what degree the structure is “pure” or, conversely, how much a symbol like “temple” is inscribed in a particular form. The parameters of the work are thus unsure: what sort of displacement is this?

Falsework: Caged Ladder is complex in much the same way. Wood posts are set on a wood platform; within the posts is a screen that “cages” a ladder. Like the “temple,” the “ladder” is ambiguous: it is a mundane object, a tool, a playground form, a symbol, an element in the artist’s other work. Banal, useful, playful, symbolic, esthetic; these terms cancel, and nothing is left but the form. So too with the screen and the posts. The screen allows visual but not physical access; like the screen before the temple, it signals hermeticism and discriminates between spaces, as screens usually do. Here, however, that discrimination is absurd; nothing is enshrined but a ladder. So the screen becomes just that, a screen—or, rather, not even that, a form. This is also true of the posts: at first one thinks “columns” but these support nothing; they are just four by fours. “False work”?

Both Screen and Caged Ladder may be seen in logical terms—but not without a violence to the referents residual in the forms. One must consider, however vainly, the sources, associations, parallels; and there are many in Miss’ work. Falsework: Galvanized is less rich in this way. It too is an ensemble: a screened “pen,” a metal “door,” wood posts and slats. Again, only the eye can enter the structure; the body is screened. This perplexes as one’s visual sense of space, scale, closure, etc., vies with one’s bodily sense of the same. One wants to get inside and see what’s there; but nothing is. Again, one is thrown back on the form of the thing as such.

Two of Miss’ site-works are documented here. One, Veiled Landscape, built for the Lake Placid Olympics, interests me in particular. It consists of five structures—a platform, a screen, poles, a fence, and a grid—set at intervals down the slope of a hill. The work can be seen in terms of Rosalind Krauss’ Expanded Field (I suppose it would be labelled a “marked site”). The platform establishes the point of view; the screen acts as the “veil”; the poles represent the vertical element; the fence adds the horizontal; and the grid cubes the two. Clearly, this is a coding of landscape. We are made aware of just how we see it as a “natural” order—in terms of related grounds, a horizontal-vertical frame, depth of field, and atmospheric recession. Landscape is indeed “veiled”—made a cultural product—at the same time that our way of seeing it is “unveiled” (i.e. denatured).

Hal Foster