Mark Wallinger

Anthony Reynolds Gallery

Mark Wallinger’s mixed-media constructions have a peculiarly English bite. They make their points with an ironic sharpness that is somehow endearingly characteristic of the place and its people. Like any good satire, this work draws strength from an identification with, rather than a rejection of, its subject. But overall Wallinger’s pieces display an uneven quality, ranging from the trite and throwaway to the perceptive and acerbic.

The titles Wallinger uses are often so direct that, at times, the work can seem to be no more than an illustration of an idea. But in his best works, that openness provides a trigger rather than an overstated conclusiveness. In Untitled (Buffer State) (all works 1988), three metal tubes project horizontally from the wall; at the end of each is a cube covered with glued-together paperback novels. Wallinger has literally “untitled” these books, obliterating any text on their covers with black paint and thereby rendering them curiously similar. The type of books on display seems to include the categories of romance, adventure, espionage, crime, horror, and soft-core porn, yet shorn of their titles, and with only vapid illustrations as clues, they become impossible to pin down. One is left in the position of the average consumer, free to choose from a marketplace full of standardized, unexceptionable goods.

A sense of colliding logic predominates in Heaven, a fish lure suspended within a pompously grand birdcage. Both prey and predator remain captive, evidence that the lineaments of one’s freedom can be perfectly circumscribed. Natural Selection, though, falls some way short of its desired effect, relinquishing charm and subtlety in favor of a crude directness that borders on the mawkish. A different type of Darwin’s finch is painted on each of 23 small rubber panels; the 24th is smeared with tar and feathers.

Despite its pervasive Englishness, in most cases Wallinger’s work seems eminently exportable. On occasion, however, a piece makes use of references so specific that it seems unlikely to travel well. Such a work in this latest show is They think it’s all over . . . It is now. The green baize playing mat of a tabletop soccer game is spread out on a wooden plinth painted with fake marbling. The players, about an inch high and standing on hemispherical bases which can be flicked with the finger, are painted in the colors worn by West Germany and England when they met in the 1966 World Cup. The work’s title is familiar as the sentence uttered by a BBC commentator when, seconds before the final whistle, England cemented victory with a fourth goal. The twist, of course, is that it is England for whom it is all over, both in soccer and in far wider terms.

Michael Archer