New York

Clemens Weiss

In Clemens Weiss’ recent exhibition, entitled “installation & logic/fragment & object,” an amalgam of boxes, pedestals, and frames, crudely constructed from glass sheets and shards, suggests the furnishings of a glass palace. Indeed, everything is mediated through glass. Works that hang on the wall are faced in glass, and freestanding pieces are placed upon an armature of glass columns or inside glass boxes. While the edifices invoke memories of the utopian idealism associated with Modern architecture, they are, in fact, the result of a more subjective, hermetic practice.

In a series of gray painted wooden doors faced in glass and hung on the wall like paintings, transparent glass allows us to see what is presented as if between two microscope slides, yet that which is revealed is not necessarily illuminated. The door is not just an artifact; it also functions as a door. The window opens onto a closed barrier, prohibiting the viewer’s ability to access its possible meanings. Although the glass is transparent, the door remains closed.

The works in the exhibition cluster together like a growing organism. While one can identify discrete objects as defined by their enclosure in glass, they are always contextualized within a much larger grouping, just as this installation is part of the artist’s larger corpus.

One of the more striking configurations is a work made of 1,111 glass boxes containing drawings, writings, and fabricated or found objects stacked inside a freestanding steel shelving unit painted white. Passing around this edifice, one peers into the clear glass boxes in an attempt to discern what is sealed inside. Here, the glass serves as a tantalizing vortex that pulls us inward to the world that it encloses. One discovers a motor, newspaper pages with stock market quotations, a shirt sleeve, rubber teeth, and stacks of the artist’s drawings. Another container holds the artist’s slides, an appropriate reference to his own work mediated by another generation of self-presentation. Though these boxes are transparent, they reveal only partial glimpses of their contents. Ultimately, their dense presentation renders many of the contained items invisible. They inhabit a transparent precinct to which there is no access. For Weiss, glass not only reveals but thwarts the viewer’s advances; it excludes us from ever attaining absolute knowledge of the boxes’ contents and, therefore, limits our ability to adequately understand Weiss’ artistic project, and by metaphorical extension, the signifying nature of art itself.

Hence, it is not the objects themselves as things in the world, meant to be decoded or purchased, that are important. On the contrary, it is their existence as part of a larger signifying network. Before Weiss’ bricolage, one must supply one’s own conceptual matrix, assembling these disparate elements into a meaningful fabric. Focusing on the connections between the various configurations, the viewer goes through a process of logical or conceptual discovery. Distinct elements combine to produce an experience energized by the process of thinking itself. Weiss obsessively documents and encapsulates everything with which he comes in contact, and his work ultimately functions as a grandiose time capsule left to be deciphered.

Kirby Gookin