New York

Laurie Parsons

Lorence Monk Gallery

A recurrent query into the nature of art concerning its object status has periodically led to the elimination of the object altogether. Does one have to make art to be an artist? Does art have to be perceptible, and if not, how does one know of its existence, let alone deal with it? Indeed, art as idea has accommodated seasonal shifts from the perceptual to the conceptual, and has manifested itself in phenomena ranging from the Duchampian readymade to the so-called dematerialized event. In the past decade, strategies such as appropriation and commodification have evidenced a shift in focus from the philosophical consideration of objecthood to the determining role of tradition and capital. Fueled by ever-increasing enthusiasm for precious materials and designer packaging, the perceptual metamorphosed into the fetishistic, and the more seditious implications of the conceptual were pushed aside. Questions of immateriality, like dormant historical curiosities, were supplanted by the din of material decadence and a general assumption that physical excitation was prerequisite to the condition of art.

For her recent one-person show, Laurie Parsons sent out announcement cards bearing only the name and address of the gallery, which presaged the completely empty space that constituted her exhibition. Though her gesture harks back to the environmental projects of Michael Asher and Robert Irwin, Robert Barry’s “during the exhibition the gallery will be closed” event, and Yves Klein’s immaterialization at Iris Clert’s gallery, it would be an oversimplification to view Parsons’ empty gallery as either a straightforward critique of commodification or an appropriation of these earlier gestures. She is even less concerned with the phenomenological effects or subtle chromatics of light and space, or the spirituality of the void. In keeping with her predecessors, Parsons’ is a hypothetical emptiness.

Parsons is a member of a new generation of artists who seem to challenge prevailing mores. Since 1986, when she first began to exhibit scraps of wood, scavenged tree carcasses, chunks of concrete, and similarly worthless detritus, Parsons’ understated approach has evidenced a noticeable detachment from the object. In her previous solo exhibition, found items—a worn-out floor mat, a mangled umbrella, a heap of rope, and the like—were presented as they were found. No cultural critique was implied, nor was the somber poetic that arose denied, but their cumulative installation did suggest a glance back at process art’s subtler moments. Whether or not Parsons managed to entice with the prospect of concealed richness in such humble materials—whether or not her readymades served as little training devices to see art everywhere in the quotidian world—her street trash was glaringly incompatible with the rarefied interior that grudgingly turned over its polished floors and immaculate white walls.

Whether she fills the gallery or leaves it empty there is more in common between the two approaches than meets the eye. Recalling Robert Rauschenberg’s 1961 telegram—“This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so”—we accept junk, or the absence of any object at all as art, solely on the authority of the artist. Questioning Parsons’ intentions quickly brings into focus the supposed conceptual premises of both situations. Because any act of perception or contextual circumstance alters an object, or event, we must conclude that the state of being unaltered is unattainable. Correspondingly, we recognize the fallacy of emptiness: it is impossible to create or experience nothing—it is always something. Parsons’ “unaltered” objects adhere to an imagined esthetic condition as long as they are in the gallery and are substantiated by the charmed exchange with the viewer that occurs there. Once, or, rather, twice removed, a collective act of faith is required to prevent their regression into ordinary garbage. Banishing the object altogether, Parsons invites us to make the leap and walk on water. Whether appendaged to ephemeral scraps or the gallery-at-large, the environmental clause is essentially the same. Uninterrupted walls, gleaming expanses of blond flooring, ambient splashes of light—all mirror the implicit codes that regulate the experience of art. Regardless of whether we come to pleasure ourselves or stay away and pass judgment, Parsons creates a highly interactive esthetic situation that demands the viewer’s participation and expands the category of art.

Jan Avgikos