Gaylen Gerber

Robbin Lockett Gallery

Reflections off the Plexiglas surfaces covering Gaylen Gerber’s graphite drawings, coupled with glare from the stark, white gallery walls, frustrate attempts to read the images, which are rendered with such a gentle touch as to be virtually invisible in the first place. I can’t say what these works picture, because I couldn’t make them out; what I know depends on hearsay and literature, not firsthand experience. With a great expenditure of sweat and time, a few details begin to emerge—a shape, a snarl of lines—but they disappear again on closer inspection. Each image amounts to a spotty collection of hors d’oeuvres that never leads to dinner, and their consumption is interrupted by the reflection of one’s own frustrated face glaring back.

Gerber keeps the viewer suspended in a state of doubt. This uncertainty, however, is not a passive state, but one convulsed by desire—the desire to know and to possess—as well as by the frustration that results when these desires are thwarted. Gerber’s work does not provoke a craving for sustenance (meaning), but for certainty for its own sake; the desire to fix the image by visually possessing it. We all know that once something is possessed, it can be quickly dismissed. It seems as if Gerber can’t bear the callousness of this dismissal, and so he has focused his energies on prolonging the moment of looking. As a result, the image and meaning have literally faded into the background.

One image looked to me like a David Salle rip-off, and I stood in front of this one the longest, having been told it was “pornographic”; there is something more compelling about a pornographic image that you can’t see than one that lays itself out for you. Is it still exploitive if it is invisible, or is it more politically correct? I think I saw an image of a woman looking out at the viewer from between her legs, but I’m not sure. Do I ask the artist or the dealer, in the name of objective journalism, what the image really is of, in order to get the facts straight? Or do I sit with my doubt about whether or not what I see is a hallucination? If it is Salle’s image, it has been bleached and wrung dry—an appropriation of an appropriation of an appropriation. Now that it has been so used that it has become invisible, Gerber attaches a new, if arbitrary, significance, based on the process of looking and the rumor of its sleazy character. If it isn’t Salle’s image, I don’t care, because sometimes hallucinations are more interesting than the truth. This doubt, where the viewers/readers enter and impose/expose themselves, is an interesting place to rest. Certainty kills in art, as much as in love.

Before these drawings, Gerber worked on a series of gray paintings in which the identical images were also virtually invisible. While the first series proposed a cynically dead-end solution; these similarly motivated drawings take us down circuitous back alleys and other diversionary routes without ever showing us the way home. Even if the pictures are thoroughly washed-out versions of media images—sad-eyed dogs, and missing children featured on milk cartons—the balance Gerber holds between revealing and concealing, and the tension this creates in the viewer initiate an endless game of looking.

It is interesting to note that the four tipped-in, nearly invisible reproductions in a small catalogue accompanying the show are being reprinted and the first edition taken out of circulation (my copy rendered apocrypha) because they reveal too much. Gerber’s work positions the viewer between a rock-and-a-hard-place, where desire is teased but never satisfied.

Laurie Palmer

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