New York

Henry Flynt

Emily Harvey Foundation

One of the things that distinguishes Henry Flynt’s self-styled “Authentic Concept Art” from neo-Conceptual art is that Flynt’s concepts are a lot harder to grasp: his works are often self-reflexive, inaccessible, and adamantly difficult, and are based on theories of mathematics, philosophy, and linguistics. On the ceiling of the gallery is painted Which Way Is Up?, 1988: it consists of a formula that refutes the claim that mathematical logic can exist outside of language. This formula has different meanings depending on the way in which it is seen. The piece is certainly thought-provoking, but it can leave the viewer cold: Like the show in general, it never broaches the influence of the modern media and its seduction by means of easy answers. The result is work that is unrewardingly cryptic because it refuses to be critical.

Flynt was the first to coin the term “Concept Art” to describe the work he was doing in the early ’60s; later it was mistakenly associated with Fluxus. The latter lacked the rigor of Flynt’s work. But if Fluxus suffered from whimsicality, Flynt’s work suffers from sheer obscurity. One of the most effective pieces of work in this show—Innpersegs Halo, 1989—consists of a long, narrow rectangular box, open at one end, which extends into a fixed cowl. Inside the box is a small yellow light. A pair of lorgnettes is attached to the box. The viewer is instructed to breathe on the lenses and put them in front of his or her eyes in order to see a halo around the light. The whole thing works very well. The vision of a halo around the light is definitely, clearly produced. The one page description of halo production affixed to the wall describes the different colors that the halo turns during the short period of its visibility. The text actually makes these colors more visible to the viewer. In this way, text and box function together like a machine, producing new visions.

Gray Planes, 1988, is a wonderful Mondrianesque painting, with brightly colored squares that are musically oriented on the canvas, in terms of placement of color. This painting is based on composer Karlheinz Stockhausen’s theories of pluralism and randomness. The entire work consists of the painting, a framed piece of text, and a poem, stenciled onto the wall. As with most of Flynt’s pieces, it requires copious description and explanation, which makes it weak as a visual artifact, but interesting as an object whose boundaries are not quite clear. Flynt’s work expresses the hope that the limits of art itself may be changed or even destroyed. This utopianism reflects a certain kind of refusal or denial of the contemporary situation. At the same time, the pieces can be strangely elusive and rewarding, if one has enough patience for them. The burning question that this show raises, but refuses to address, is how little thought we are really willing to give to what we look at these days.

Catherine Liu