New York

Angus Fairhurst and Lothar Hempel

Anton Kern Gallery

Angus Fairhurst’s and Lothar Hempel’s two-person show drew much of its energy from its location: not only from the optimism represented by a brand-new gallery, but from the chameleon energy of SoHo, now filled with gourmet shops, high-end boutiques, and pedestrian-glutted sidewalks, which has prompted many dealers to relocate to relatively quiet Chelsea.

Fairhurst’s installation, consisting of remnants from a performance by the artist’s band, Low Expectations, was completely adrift as sculpture, or even as art for that matter, much in the way the artifacts of early Happenings made relatively little sense the day after the event. Reportedly, the night of their live performance, Low Expectations packed the gallery far beyond legal occupancy and cranked the volume to produce the sort of sticky close encounter that drives “adult listeners” away in droves. The much more manageable video documentation of another Low Expectations performance explained the significance of the band’s name. They’ve mastered a series of great opening riffs—just that and nothing more—which they play over and over and over. The music doesn’t go anywhere, but it sounds and feels great. Standing sentry beside the video monitor and deck was the other memorable element of the installation—a crumpled, badly constructed gorilla suit, which made about as much sense as you wanted it to, or none at all, depending on your propensity to construct narratives from provocative fragments. The press release suggested the importance to Fairhurst of the gorilla motif—something about exploring the blurred lines between man and beast—but intellectualizing this furry suit seemed antithetical to the rebellious, anarchic spirit of the “low expectations” Fairhurst was proudly promoting.

Fairhurst’s art forfeits discursive clarity for constructive chaos. In its bid to reject formal standards and confound the interpretive strategies and expectations we bring to the experience of art, it announces its affinity not only to the slippery temporal dimensions of Happenings but to much post-Minimal art. In a similar spirit, Hempel used ephemeral materials (cardboard, scraps of wood, bits of wire, whatever was at hand) in his site-specific installation, charting a path of resistance to “high art” by creating a somewhat tautological piece—it referred mainly to its own staging. Whereas Fairhurst alluded to one type of theatrical stage (that of musical performance), Hempel created a fantasy stage-set that crudely replicated the view from the gallery’s large picture window—as well as what lay beyond its frame. In Hempel’s installation, SoHo took on the appearance of a booming frontier town. This play with site-specificity and Hempel’s dressed-down approach to artmaking evoked at once the whimsy and youthfulness of Alexander Calder’s circus world and the critiques of social space typical of the ’60s. Like Fairhurst, Hempel demotes the art object in order to privilege contextual elements, which range from the subjective—young European artist eyes New York—to the analytical—the tragicomic relief of materially impoverished art juxtaposing SoHo’s plethora of luxury goods. By its very aspiration to interactivity, the work of these two young artists is experimental. Making no attempt to assert its own authority, it seeks to be simultaneously oppositional, inclusive, and free of irony. These projects constitute a kind of learning in public and their outcome is uncertain; yet they include the viewer, in a truly generous way, in what amounts to a reworking of the idea of process in art.

Jan Avgikos