London

Michael Craig-Martin

Rowan Gallery

Michael Craig-Martin’s last comparable show of large-scale drawings (again, projected from slides onto the wall, and then drawn in directly with the black tape) looked like Al Held’s compiled with household articles instead of with plain geometric figures. The drawings were spatially ambiguous and relied heavily on the fact that everything was drawn openly on top of everything else with no regard for the relative scale of the objects depicted. The white of the wall (like white paper in linear drawing) accommodated both the internal forms of the objects and the spaces between them. Craig-Martin, in his latest series “Reading” (all the images contain books, among other things), makes use of the relative sizes of, say, a light-bulb and a filing-cabinet to introduce a more “believable,” consistent space. One can’t see through the various objects so there’s no sense that the viewer is becoming involved in a puzzle.

Nevertheless, these works feel enigmatic; maybe it’s something to do with the size of the things on the wall, or their simple, undetailed outlining (Oliver Cromwell instructed his portraitist to paint him “warts and all”; he’d have had Craig-Martin summarily executed at Tyburn Tree), the simple way in which they conjure an unadorned interior filled with sturdy, useful objects. I think, rather, it’s the completely anonymous description, the black-and-white austerity of the works, which make them appear so strange, so loaded—in the same way Robbe-Grillet can describe, quite unemotionally, a stone “made shiny by erosion,” and imbue it with a fugitive dramatic sense, an intensity, quite out of scale to his interrogation of them.

Next to Craig-Martin, Robbe-Grillet’sdescriptions are positively baroque. Here we have, in Reading with Filing-Cabinet, an open book nearest to us, then a chair, a table, the cabinet itself, a set of stepladders, and finally an ironing board. In Reading with Shoes (the smallest, and spatially least probable piece), there’s a pair of lace-up shoes, half obscured by a book and an automatic pistol, covered with a fork. The scales are all slightly wrong, the objects are piled in parallel but slightly separate planes so that everything appears the same size. One could construct the most fascinating scenario . . .

Adrian Searle