New York

Jorge Pardo

Petzel Gallery | East 67th Street

The book that Jorge Pardo has produced is really very pretty—its fluorescent-colored pages studded with pop-out paper disks and its accordian-pleated, vellum centerfold printed primarily with schematic elevational drawings of an architectural structure. Displayed on the floor of an otherwise empty gallery, its pages fully extended and resting on the paper disks, it looked for all the world as though Pardo had joined the ranks of the “artist’s book” guild whose members busy themselves “challenging the boundaries” of the book form. Is Pardo’s well-crafted object simply an “artist’s book”? Is the book actually sculpture? Or the sculpture possibly Conceptual art? In each instance, the answer is both Yes and No, although guessing games based on categorical distinctions play out rather quickly and leave the generous viewer looking for more than initially meets the eye.

Pardo, who has made something of a reputation for himself as a challenger of boundaries great and small, has definitely got bigger things in mind than books or sculpture—he’s going after architecture, and this is where the “conceptual” part comes in. Purchase the limited edition book (Pardo refers to it as a catalogue), and you’ve bought yourself the rights to build the architectural structure featured on its vellum pages. Of course, Pardo is no more an architect or technical draughtsman than he is a book artist or sculptor. His computer-generated drawings of various elevations and a floor plan for a fairly standard one-story building (he refers to it as a house) aren’t meant to pass as functional architectural plans; on the contrary, they are specifically “nonfunctional,” and with this in mind, the relation between the book and the architecture deserves further consideration. If not a book, and not architecture, exactly what is one “buying”?

Think about it this way. Pardo’s strategy is reminiscent of practices pioneered decades ago when the air was thick with certificates that weren’t artworks in and of themselves but that legally authorized the bearer to produce a specified work of art. Pardo may problematize his decoy object by dressing it up (remember, it’s an art-worthy thing in its own right) but this gesture is tantamount to a diversion—the “real” art is the projected architectural structure which, practically speaking, will probably never be built by anyone whether they’ve purchased the rights to do so or not. A clever reversal? Instead of giving us a pseudo-object for our house, Pardo gives us a pseudo-house for our object. Instead of the logic of the ready-made, upon which Conceptualism’s use of language was predicated, Pardo gives us that of the “nevermade.” The problem is it isn’t nearly clever enough.

Since the vogue of the immaterial and attempts to mobilize a brave new world of art through a series of “negative realities”—no object, no authorship, no ownership, no limits—we have, in fact, observed that alongside every historically memorable idea, event, utterance, or surrogate thing whose authority derives from its diminished materiality or visuality, there exist chunkier big-ticket items, without which the ephemeral would long since have been forgotten. Pardo satirizes this history, implying that he can outrun it. Fully realized art, which in this case is proffered as an architectural dwelling, is, for all practical purposes, unattainable. His surrogate object is a fancy consolation prize. It’s all we get, folks. A consolation prize? For what? For playing along with a dilettantish game of hide and seek? Thanks but no thanks. Pardo’s humble gestures and major attitude have been in syndication long enough to have become the formalism of the ’90s, and that presents one very big problem: we can wolf it down and spit it back up faster than Pardo can dish it out, making for poor odds that we’ll want to come back for more.

Jan Avgikos