Philadelphia

“Investigations 1989”

Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania

This exhibition featuring the work of Allan Wexler, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Martin Kippenberger explores the artists’ relationships to things in the world, and the diverse forms of attention they bring to these relationships. In his picnic area proposals for a specific site in Massachusetts, Wexler focuses on tables and chairs as both necessary and poetic extensions of ourselves. Included in this installation are 30 models, showing objects that shape the landscape, as in Two Chairs Carving a Path; that exert influences over others, as in Chairs in One Building Controlled by Chairs in Another, or that parody their own meaning as functional extensions of ourselves, as in Table Worn by One Person and One Table Worn by Four People. In many of the models, the sense of the theatrical moment is so complete that the absence of the building structure is not noticed—the interaction of the parts creates esthetic closure. Dining Building with Furniture Projecting into Infinity, built at full-scale out of unfinished two-by-fours, is a square, elevated structure that can be entered from any one of the four corner doors. Inside is a square table with four attached chairs. The chair backs and legs and table legs are painted red and project through the walls into the exterior space surrounding the piece. These beams end at uneven intervals and seem to imply infinite, unfixed space. Paradoxically, it is the model projects that seem more open and inviting, if only as ideas: they engage the viewer with the power of their playful inventiveness.

Hiroshi Sugimoto offers black and white photographs of seascapes, movie theater interiors, and wildlife dioramas from the American Museum of Natural History in New York. In the series format, the built-in structure of repeated formal considerations, expecially in the seascapes and theater images, identifies attention with the force of meditation and defines place as having the density and complexity of an object. In the theater series, Sugimoto’s process mimics and reinforces the power of extended attention. By exposing his film for the entire length of the movie playing in each theater, the screen appears as white light and the theater’s interior is subtly illuminated. Here concept informs process, reinforcing concept; the camera becomes metaphorically involved in the artist’s vision.

Kippenberger represents yet another viewpoint. The kind of object/image focus that is selective and often singular both in Sugimoto and Wexler does not exist here. Instead, one moves through a range of images, reflecting the generous reach of the artist into the world of objects. Kippenberger values perception as inclusion: the range of objects he includes goes from a bronze mozzarella to a large mummylike shape containing plastic wrapping. “The Mummy” is itself covered with layers of wrapping tape printed in German, Spanish, and English, all saying “I Hold Myself Closed” (ironic in the light of so much inclusion). There are also paintings, sculptures, a stereo cabinet with Kippenberger recordings ready to be played, and three pieces that play off of work by Henry Moore, Donald Judd, and Jeff Koons. The many forms of attention reflect the often funny, essentially questioning stance of the artist. In this installation, despite the disparity between objects and meaning, everything appears somewhat ordered—most of the images stick close to the wall, as if adhering to some unexplained logic. It is as if, having finished the installation of the work, Kippenberger straightened his tie and all the pieces fell into place. Perhaps this is a nod, though an ironic one, to the sense of order in the other two installations here.

Eileen Neff