Peter Tyndall


Though Peter Tyndall’s mission—to render problematic the viewer’s relation to art—is a familiar one, his recent installation, ¡Relax!, 1988–90, suggests that he is up to much more. Tyndall knowingly utilizes the esthetic commandments that have practically become mantras of post-Modernity—to undermine, destabilize, and transgress. Noting the popular complaints about art-world cultishness, he bases his text-dominated paintings around the conceit of a secret society of culture. More recently, he has incorporated dreams into his works as a way of commenting on the consumption and power of culture.

¡Relax! is comprised of several works that mimic the appearance of paintings. By adopting the role of cultural anthropologist and employing several styles and media, Tyndall circumvents artistic categorization. He has given all of his works from the last decade the same title: detail: A Person Looks At A Work Of Art/someone looks at something. . . .

This exhibition appears to be a meditation upon his experience at the 1988 Venice Biennale. In his work for the Aperto, The right-angle giver, 1988, he combined an image of Christ with a carpenter’s tool (the spirit level) as a metaphor for cultural purity and control. Here, a painting with the words “¡Relax! World art is only hegemony art” is wrapped in plastic, and presented inside an open crate as if ready for shipping. Alongside it hangs a silk-screened enlargement of a handwritten notation: “on August 8, 1990, the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, appeared in a scene from the television series ‘Mission Impossible’ as the Manhattan Museum of Art.” The last piece in the show—a triptych of text relating a long dream about Tyndall’s imaginary inclusion at the next Documenta—is the most complex. During nocturnal explorations through a huge exhibition pavilion, the artist stumbles into a Piranesian metropolis of activity: “As far as the eye could see the night lights flooded a vast scene of endless structure-building. This was the American contingent. These were Americans.” In the dream he then revises his planned piece. Tyndall’s ambivalence about his own artistic innocence surfaces at the dream’s conclusion. His insistence on the purity of Australian “honey” (purity symbolizing Tyndall’s intentions) is finally contradicted.

In ¡Relax! Tyndall completes a decade-long transition, whereby his concerns with epistemology have been replaced by more political and satirical ones. If his desire to extract cultural leverage from a provincial location seems bleak, this desperation is mirrored in his persistent insistence on the identical titles for every work; this is, as he explains, “the one piece of writing that the gallery system feels obliged to honour.” However, his overdetermined dreams are far from cynical. Conversational commentary, endless bracketing of self-expression, and Glenn Baxter-like humor suggest a world view grounded in common sense. Tyndall once published a newspaper comic strip, heavily indebted to Marcel Duchamp, called Culture Corner with Uncle Pete. This should alert us to the fact that Tyndall’s installation is the product of considerable refinement and distillation. His imagination is pulled down by an undertow of fastidious politics, but as his intention is clearly not polemic, one wonders to what end. Tyndall is imaging a personal temptation, but the romanticism of such an enterprise is subverted by the factual nature of the work and carefully rationed humor.

Charles Green