New York

Christian Marclay

Tom Cugliani Gallery

Christian Marclay structures his works around sly conceptual conceits, the only common denominator being that they all have something to do with sound. He uses various found objects and materials, most often records: an earlier sculpture installation at the Clocktower featured 850 records arrayed in a grid across the floor. Among the works in this show is 5 Cubes, 1989, in which Marclay forms melted and mashed record albums into cubes, recalling the transformation of car parts by John Chamberlain. A number of collages (all untitled 1988 and ’89) are made from old record covers, each based on clever, unlikely pairings of images and texts. In one, a double image of the word “multiplication” is placed above a Josef Albers design of an abacus; in another a black cross reminiscent of Malevich blots out the figure of a jazz musician—black artist as anonymous Christ-martyr? A third is an all-white cover, worn with age so that the circle of the record itself protrudes from its surface, with a white rectangular patch bandaged over one edge—an exercise in geometric abstraction again alluding to Malevich.

Other works make use of the technological apparatus of recording and playing music. Stereo Volume, 1989, in a typical Marclay pun, consists of two speakers with projecting glass volumes providing a spatial analogue to the notionof amplified sound. In Breasts, 1989, two white-painted speaker-covers with projecting circular cones are suspended from metal clips; in The Beatles, 1989, a pillow crocheted with recording tape onto which Beatles music is inscribed fuses homespun craft, modern technology, and a kind of neo-dadaist spirit.

The paradox underlying Marclay’s sculptures (he has also worked as a performance artist and musician) is that he continues to refer to music, a temporal and aural art, in forms both silent and still. This kind of deliberate incongruency also informs Marclay’s attitude to his subject matter: at least part of his project concerns memorializing and fetishizing the relics of pop music history. Marclay reveals a personal nostalgia for these artifacts, whose vintage approximates the years of his own childhood, giving his strategies a poignant, somewhat melancholy autobiographical aspect.

The idea of evoking music in visual form could fall flat in less capable hands, but Marclay pulls it off. He has a knack for creating conceptual pieces that work visually and convey their messages without the verbal appendages to which many artists of this school resort. Moreover, Marclay is capable of exploiting his materials on a range of literal and metaphorical levels.

Lois E. Nesbitt