New York

John Armleder

John Gibson Gallery

With virtuosic artlessness, John Armleder achieves Zen summits (and/or pits) through the manipulation of household objects—removing traces of himself and leaving a generous residue of wit and poetry. His recent show evokes oxymorons like “elegant poverty,” “brilliant stupidity,” “seductive lameness”: I’m a total fan. I love the chandelier on the floor. I love the plywood thing. I love the Mamas and the Papas (at least here). The show, in short, is good. Neither decorative nor formally replete, his furniture sculptures seem oddly expectant, like they’re stuck in an existential holding zone that is neither functional nor expressive. Perched on a plywood Minimalist platform the height of a shed, a coffee table becomes dysfunctional and idiotically majestic. With dysfunction can existential speculation be far behind?

At once impassive, because they’re objects, and dependent, because they’re often in need of electric stimulation, these sculptures are magnets for pathetic fallacy. Sitting on the fine line between wit and dumbness, they project a rigorous vulnerability. All of the pieces are called Untitled Furniture Sculpture.

Covered in an ugly ’70s plaid, three Parsons chairs line up against the wall below a “matching” yellow and green panel painting. On the floor next to them, three boom boxes play the Mamas and the Papas on staggered loops, emitting a midget din. The superfluity of the sound gives the piece a sick anthropomorphic feel. The very presence of the sound indicates a spectral subjectivity, implying someone or something who would be hearing this, or their absence. Like a character in a Duras novel, Armleder’s pieces suggest the possibility of being one’s own furniture. The relentless genericness of his objects provides the mise-en-scène for anyone or no one.

The traditional challenge for painting has been to provide its own source of illumination—its own inner, or at least optically induced, glow. In an electric epoch in which everything works only by plugging into something else, Armleder offers us artificially assisted, low-tech “action paintings”: twin panels of deadwood—one pegboard and one plywood with drilled holes in it—each winkling with little Christmas lights. These panels can’t shed light on themselves, but they still make the effort to be festive, if not radiant. While the poetry of these pieces is formal, it also comes from their poverty of means and from the mysterious power of borderline dumbness, which is always strangely satisfying. Last but not least is the chandelier piece—overdressed with crystals, lit up and lying on the floor. With its gilt chains drooping, it is the very emblem of narcissistic blow-out. Despite its undignified position, it sparkles.

Rhonda Lieberman