New York

Meuser

Koury Wingate

For his first solo exhibition in the United States, the Düsseldorf-based artist Meuser presented a number of found-object sculptures that bore a deceptive resemblance to more conservative welded-steel compositions. He also included preliminary sketches for three of these works. As a student of Joseph Beuys, Meuser clearly gets his sense of materials from his mentor, but rather than choosing to build a grandiose myth of the self, he pursues a steadfast anonymity. In this regard, Meuser’s work sometimes proves to be more palatable than that of the mentor himself.

Most often Meuser works from steel fittings, beams, and plates salvaged from scrapped industrial equipment. Although he limits the extent to which he alters his finds to occasional welding or priming, he nonetheless downplays their ready-made or commodity status by choosing objects made of materials that have an inherently strong elemental quality. (Of course, steel remains as much a commodity as, say, a lava lamp.) He handles his pieces carefully, relying heavily on placement and juxtaposition for effect, frequently playing off gallery walls for a tableaulike effect. In one work, for example, he bolted a short section of T-beam to the wall at eye level. On the floor below, set off from the wall, he lined up four raw steel boxes. In a similar piece, he hung a steel plate, painted gray but slightly scratched, with brackets. Below this he placed a freestanding length of hollow steel plate, flanged at both ends and on the bottom, and painted with a red semigloss primer. A tag, perhaps left over from the original, cryptically read, “FRB 2/6.” A third sculpture centered on a rudimentary table built from iron parts. Here, Meuser’s arrangement conceit surfaced more overtly; he contrasted a deflated bicycle inner tube with a line of five heavily corroded, trestle-shaped irons, as if this were a junkyard version of Lautréamont’s dissection table. In a fourth piece, this technique all but disappeared; the artist simply hung a small steel box on the wall, just as one would a picture.

Meuser’s work offers no clues, no assistance to the uninitiated—and that may be its strength. The artist has previously expressed admiration for the compositional sculpture of David Smith and Anthony Caro, as opposed to the primary structures of hard-line minimalists. But Meuser sublimates the so-called “humanistic” impulse of these sculptors into a pure act of esthetic investment vis-à-vis his chosen materials/objects; his pieces are only marginally anthropomorphic. His work’s “minimalist” look is more a hypostatization of that impulse, a refusal to embroider, as it were, than an essentialist reduction. His is a polemic of non-polemic. (One insoluble quirk, however, is how closely his sculpture approaches the condition of painting in its tableau aspect.) That Meuser has also cited Theodor Adorno in one of his exhibition catalogues is not without its implications. In contradiction to the theoretical functionalism of Beuys’ social sculpture, Meuser may indeed embrace a qualified idea of esthetic autonomy insofar as art can be seen to remain a clear guidepost in the workaday miasma of bourgeois life. If so, then Meuser’s salutary faith in the truth value of esthetics walks a fine line. On the one hand, he rightly refuses to convert art into a service industry of sorts. On the other, he risks falling into academic formalism through his utter disdain for the novelty of functionalism.

John Miller