New York

David Ireland

Germans van Eck

For some years now, beginning with the dissection and reconstruction of his own San Francisco house, David Ireland has been exploring the potential of mundane objects and environments to tell stories. The often decrepit materials of his sculptures and installations evoke the tragic dimension of the passage of time—decay, dissolution, loss—and our helplessness before such forces. The works shown here continue in this vein. Untitled Tub of Relics. Produced in Action, “Studio” at the Fabric Work Shop, Philadelphia, 1989, is a waist-high box containing various items. Though the objects inside—mounds of concrete, empty bags that once contained gravel mix—are arrayed in a neat rectangular grid or stacked vertically, their muteness and apparent uselessness belies such purposeful ordering. The piece as a whole examines process, providing a record of each stage in the production of concrete, from mix to dried mounds. The rusted, dented metal tubs and tables, worn tools, and dusty sacks make the ordering seem an attempt to deny the inevitable dissolution of all matter.

A more autobiographical dimension emerges in Table of Periods, 1988, a mesh-covered box containing photographs of the artist’s previous projects, propped up on a metal card table and spotlit by a bare bulb. The haphazard, heaped arrangement of images contrasts with the care that has gone into framing and numbering them, just as their function as, “evidence” is thwarted by the mesh screen that renders them inaccessible. Many of the photographs depict Ireland at work, implying that the artist and his work are inseparable and perhaps interchangeable; the sculpture’s personal, industrial materials equate artistic with technological production, demystifying the artist’s activities.

Other works reveal Ireland’s photographic sense of moment: in Table and Bolt, 1989, a bolt of pink cloth is draped artfully over a table constructed of metal crossbars, which are clamped at various angles to a metal and concrete frame. The piece has the look of a workplace recently disturbed or abandoned in haste. Chunk in the Cabinet Chunk out of the Cabinet with Doors Permanently Ajar, 1989, also implies a narrative, with a lump of concrete “moving” out of an old metal locker. A light positioned on the back of the locker casts a misaligned halo around its form, enhancing the dramatic effect.

Ireland is an artist of understatement, one ho knows how to get the most out of the subtlest gestures and least promising materials. In most of these pieces, Ireland proves once again that ordinary objects, like life’s “empty” moments and people we take for granted, hold mysteries, contain stories.

Lois E. Nesbitt