New York

Will Insley

Max Protetch Gallery

For the past 18 years Will Insley has been exhibiting drawings and designs for a massive imaginary dystopia he calls ONECITY. Insley envisions a home for some 400 million citizens plunked down in mid-America, but while he designates its location it remains temporally unspecific; ONECITY is not so much a vision of a predicted or hoped-for future as an atemporal fiction. Insley has an elaborate, almost obsessive tale to tell about the cultural structure of ONECITY, its Byzantine forms of government, entertainment, and work rivaling those of Dante’s Hell. Although the work has changed formally since he originally proposed the ONECITY myth, each new exhibition is less an occasion to introduce new themes than a continuation of an ongoing project. Oblivious to seasons, trends, and even the idea of a career, the artist pursues a single consuming project. Finally, however, the guiding fiction is less interesting than the works in which it results, and the clarity of vision and persistence to which they attest.

It was Frank Stella’s early painting that inspired Insley in the ’60s; from those works, he adopted his lines, grids, boxes, and irregularly shaped canvases. But where Stella’s paintings are nonrepresentational, Insley’s are intended to be transparent—they are architectural drawings and facsimiles of putatively real pieces of ONECITY. The “Wall Fragments,” which make up the larger part of this show, are full-scale copies of objects found in an imaginary archaeology—pieces from the wall of the “Opaque Library,” the repository of knowledge in ONECITY. Where earlier “Wall Fragments” were monochrome and severe, these, with their bright boxes of color and occasional diagonals cutting through variegated grids, look like aerial photographs. What exactly Insley imagines inside the Opaque Library he doesn’t say—according to his myth it was curiously inaccessible anyway. These pieces from its wall seem to express both the structure and the multiformity of the library’s interior, as if they were teasing reminders of the wealth within.

A drawing of a building from ONECITY owes more to the history of architecture on paper from Boullée to Le Corbusier than it does to abstraction. Visionary architecture is traditionally utopian, and part of thepromise that it holds out is conveyed by the beauty of the drawings themselves; Insley’s imagined city, on the other hand, is as amoral as it is atemporal. The building—a functionally indeterminate, gridbased structure, called Building/No. 1, Stage Space Reduce, 1967/83—is rendered in comparatively cold oblique projection. It looks less like a dream of an architecturally wondrous future than simply another place to live, different from our own world, but like it—and like ONECITY as a whole—with the ambivalent qualities of its citizens’ lives built in.

James Lewis