New York

Allen Ruppersberg

Christine Burgin Gallery

In keeping with the premises of Conceptual art, Allen Ruppersberg generates new work by deftly manipulating format and creating distinct juxtapositions within his existing oeuvre. In his recent show, this method yielded three different projects: You and Me, The Gift and the Inheritance and See For Yourself (all works 1989).

In You and Me, a checkerboard of black and white floor tiles inlayed with a contrasting italic “poem” that combines the pronouns “you” and “me” variously (“me + you and you + me,” “me + you and you – me,” etc.), became a kind of recombinant dialogue between self and other. The regular alternation of the tiles coupled with systematic textual permutations was slightly unnerving. Like a Carl Andre sculpture, You and Me invited the viewer to literally “walk all over” it, but where Andre’s work was placed on the floor, Ruppersberg’s project became the floor.

The Gift and the Inheritance consisted of a series of lovingly detailed graphite renderings each depicting a book from his own collection. Displayed on shelves, the drawings functioned as both images and objects. The focus on book covers as readymades recalls Ed Ruscha’s pop sensibility, especially his artist’s book Records, and like Ruscha, Ruppersberg treats titles as found bits of language. The Courage of the Commonplace by Mark Raymond Shipman Andrews commands a shelf of its own, while Shakespeare’s Works, Psychopaths by Alan Harrington, a Tick Tock Tales comic book and One-Man Show by Michael Innes are presented together. The unexpected grouping begins to articulate an arcane logic. A blurb from the last book expresses the kind of overblown fatalism in which Ruppersberg has long taken delight: “The artist’s life was fleeting; the brush of Death was long,” and it simultaneously alludes to the special arrangement involved in the sale of these works. With the purchase of a drawing Ruppersberg officially wills the depicted book to the collector who buys it. Whether or not this “intricately involves the collector in the life of the artist” as Ruppersberg maintains in his statement, it does effectively incite a consideration of the relationship between artworks, private property, and gifts.

Ruppersberg’s pairing of Why Not Draw? by John Lee and Looking Backward 2000-1887, by Edward Bellamy in See For Yourself virtually prescribes his approach. Here he frames the kind of wall calendars that were once a promotional staple for small businesses with actual window boxes. Where the name and motto of a company would usually appear, he inserts various choice slogans and quotations, then reverses the calendar, leaving the picture on top alone. Ironically enough, the difficulty of reading backwards encourages one to read the entire text.

Inspired by a scene from David Lynch’s film Blue Velvet where a fake robin perches on an outside window ledge to symbolize a return to “normalcy,” Ruppersberg’s assemblages are both poignant and uncanny. In one, white doves alight on a woman in a yellow floral dress; beneath her, the query, “God Is Dead, True or False.” In another, the following pronouncement from Walter Benjamin menaces the bucolic idyll of an American farm scene: “Every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably.” Though Ruppersberg clearly intends to merge allegory and cliché; calendars or not, the series is somewhat marred by a gratuitously high incidence of pinup girls. Nevertheless, viewing See For Yourself remains an oddly moving experience, akin to watching stock movie footage of flapping calendar leaves from the wrong side of the screen.

John Miller