New York

John Armleder

John Gibson Gallery

In Samuel Beckett’s Murphy (1938),the eponymous hero ties himself to a teak rocking chair with seven scarves, which, unlike the seven veils of the dance, keep revelation private. He rocks himself into an alpha state, the achievement of which is signaled by his tumbling, chair and all, onto the floor. Like Murphy, John Armleder has seemed determined to get rid of the body through solipsistic contemplation; and he has used furniture as a means to this end. An Armleder drawing from 1979 offers a schematic chair in silhouette, with the circle on its seat containing another silhouetted chair; both are askew If the globe is analogous to a thought bubble, this chair, like most of Armleder’s furniture, imagines itself. It is like Murphy’s mind, which “pictured itself as a large hollow sphere, hermetically closed to the universe without. This was not an impoverishment, for it excluded nothing that it did not itself contain.”

The ideality of the circle, and the consistently geometrical shapes Armleder has used in conjunction with other, real chairs, argues a cerebral hegemony on his part. (Murphy is a Pythagorean; numbers are the essence of the universe for him.) But his new work seems to amend this decision to acknowledge the embeddedness of thought in sensation, of history in emotion. Instead of mutual assured destruction, the furniture and paintings in this latest installation were interdependent, cooperating to produce meaning. A ’60s-style sunburst chandelier hung between two generic abstract expressionist paintings. The wooden frame of a chaise lounge was lodged, off balance, against the wall beneath a minimalist painting of circles; besidethe panel, above the frame, was the chaise’s brown leather seat. A mirrored make-up table, likewise on a bias, supported a similar canvas. Above a 1940-ish office chair two Gerrit Rietveld-influenced tables, stuck to opposing walls, fought it out. This, then, was art as enlightenment (the chandelier), psychoanalysis (the couch), narcissism (the dressing table), and business (the office chair). True, the humor here could be nihilistic; but whereas in earlier installations the formal artworks seemed to impose themselves on the “real” objects, here the furniture allowed the paintings to realize their intentions to express and to confess themselves. Sitting is the common posture for thought; significantly, in this more analytical work, lying down was permitted, and, punningly, the couch separated into layers, top and bottom, a representation of self-analysis and the free association of latent and repressed material.

If this work cast doubt on formalism’s historical claims to autonomy, the “used” quality of the furniture took the rug out from under more recent criticism put forth by what Dan Cameron has called “product art”—sculpture “with consumer products [presented in] their department store pristineness.” No art escapes without guilt, however. Armleder’s furnishings, though likely found in the trash, are now poised on the edge of valuable collectibility.

Jeanne Silverthorne