New York

Tyler Turkle

Greenberg Wilson Gallery

Tyler Turkle has been working with colored acrylic for a few years now, pouring and then arranging it into various shapes which, when dry, can be peeled from their original surface and stuck like huge decals onto virtually anything flat enough to take them. A few of these were plastered around the gallery here, their two-color schemes abstracted from the cover design of the New Criterion. Nothing is left of the original design but a pair of large puddles of plastic on the floor, both called The Last Criterion, 1989.

But the main attraction here was a series of five large color photographs, each of which depicts a meeting place of land and water. Over the area where the water should be, Turkle has poured his acrylic—again using the pattern of a single primary color with a black band at one end—so that the bright plastic laps up against the edges of the land. Some of the scenes show tree-lined mountain ridges and ravines, and one seems to be of a scattering of settlements on the African veldt, but the best are of more developed areas. In one of the latter (all titled Plastic Water, 1989), a bright orange sea abuts a house with an orange roof, which hangs out over a steep cliff: half of it has already slipped down to the water, apparently as a result of a mud slide, and the color seems to threaten what is left with erosion from boiling, radioactive waves. In another, an aerial view of a city shows the presence of a bright green plastic ocean or inlet, encroaching on the buildings like some fantasy of destruction from a ’50s science fiction movie. A third, particularly effective piece shows the downtown of a peaceful, whitewashed town with a red lake around it, which catches and emphasizes the pink and purple tones in the shot as much as it overwhelms the suddenly frail looking churches and apartment blocks.

Despite the fact that the pictures come from magazines and photoessays, Turkle makes no obvious statement about appropriation; his true medium is acrylic, not photography. In the past he’s taken cigarette packs, anatomical drawings, and movie publicity stills and covered the figures with acrylic, rendering them as silhouettes—although he’s just as likely to peel the plastic off again and affix the ghostly, disassociated characters to the nearest window. The tone of the work in the present show is determined by the fact that the acrylic colors seen here occur nowhere in nature—neither, of course, does the substance itself—so the bodies of water which they cover and replace look garish and toxic, like oceans of bright, synthetic chemical waste.

Juxtaposed with the innocuous, undistinguished photos, the plastic additions give the whole a sort of ominous cast, as if they were nasty environmental predictions. But the undertones of danger may be an unintended effect, given Turkle’s apparent pleasure in the stuff—the artist lives in Florida, and the bright plastic colors can seem to be as much Disney as dire. Moreover, the fact that the applied plastic is thicker than the photos underneath and becomes cracked with fault lines when it dries just about prevents one from seeing the applications as truly part of the picture below, and so the result is more eccentric than straightforwardly meaningful. As with the “Criterion” pieces, one suspects that the artist’s choices are pointed. But the candy-colored spills, however carefully controlled they are—and they fit their alloted dimensions on the photos exactly—are so improbable that the show is an amusement first.

James Lewis