Toronto

Brian Boigon

S. L. Simpson Gallery

In an installation called Mondrian's Holiday, 1983, Brian Boigon sent up Modernism's most famous hater of green. A white garden chair, a tall highball glass, a folded towel, and a funky portable radio conjured the master in wet swimming trunks, staring into the blue, away from an unpainted paint-by-number landscape drawn in outline on the wall. Although the point was elusive, the piece was good fun, offering what at the time was a welcome tone of address.

The question is whether the welcome is wearing thin. Boigon's new work is fun and irreverent too. He has put together a series of constructions that are partly two-dimensional image-grids and partly what he calls “nu-constructivist assemblies.” In each piece the three-dimensional assembly holds the foreground, hovering out and away from the image-grid below. Made of chrome and aluminum building supplies, they recall El Lissitzky's “Prouns” and look like they have been made by some inspired contractor to stimulate interest in renovation work. In spite of this, they are remarkably elegant objects. Boigon toys with this elegance, combining it again and again with sarcastic imagery that he anchors to the Modernist grid, crossing a certain laid-back zaniness with a handsome sense of design.

Boigon makes use of an assortment of high-art reproduction, film stills, architectural drawings, and cartoon images, such as Wiley Coyote, Tom (of Tom and Jerry), and a Jetson-like couple in a hovercar, among others. Maybe because it's a film image, maybe because the world of real flesh is at least approximated, the image of the dying Frankenstein in Frosted Flakes, 1987, seems more moving than it should. And Boigon knows it. He wants this glib sensitivity to seem like the real thing, to draw us into his work's general inversion of values. His ersatz Lissitzky becomes a gem, just as Frankenstein, the ersatz man, dies a tragic hero. As in any other case of inflation, the value of real goods goes down.

But is this comedy of devaluation funny? When high art, and the utopianism implicit in it, are brought low, both the cause and the result should be a crisis of belief. But Boigon's work is comfortable with itself and its subject, motivated by parody rather than anxiety. This takes something of the fun out of its fun. The work's accomplished demeanor, its achievement of a proto-art objecthood, is ironically a proof of its emptiness. Today “emptiness” is endemic, but not just as a fashionable art strategy, for emptiness is more than a stance—it's a moral condition. Boigon's irony, for all its smarts, does nothing more than reflect this condition and take us into a greater emptiness.

Richard Rhodes