Manfred Pernice


In a brand new gallery just off Bond Street—a pristine environment of gray, shiny, almost plastic-looking floors and freshly painted, brilliant white walls—Manfred Pernice introduced two constructions. A large, boxlike structure entitled Big Bell, 1998, occupied the front space. Almost seven feet long, over two-and-a-half feet wide, and over six feet in height, it has been knocked together in reasonably sturdy fashion from lengths of unplaned timber, tongue-and-groove chipboard panels of the sort used in cladding or floor lining, and a couple of cheap, ready-made doors. One of the doors, cut in half, is hinged so that it could close over one end of the piece. Its presence is all but superfluous, however, as the space it would cover is already more or less blocked off by a sheet of plywood. The other door has been placed horizontally and fixed to one side of the work in what could be an attempt to box in the framework, that is, to make it usable. The gesture seems fairly futile, given that a square hole has been drilled and cut out of it at what would, under normal circumstances, be eye height, so that if you were to put anything into this “container,” it would fall out.

Although nowhere nearly as large as a real container, the structure’s overall shape and proportions suggest such a function, even if its open framework makes it quite unsuitable to hold anything. Its lack of function is made all the more apparent by the traces of polystyrene still clinging to the timber, indicating the materials’ provenance in packing crates. Confronted by such needlessly purposeful reintegration of already-used materials, one thinks a little of Reinhard Mucha, but with more muck and a lighter heart.

On the exterior of this construction Pernice has pasted several pieces of letter-size paper, photocopies of collages he made from photographs he took of shipping containers. Given the general air of honesty surrounding the structure, these pictures seem to operate more as clues than decoys. Something alien has been brought into the space, something that does not, in the ordinary way of things, belong in such prim surroundings.

What Pernice has introduced into the gallery begs to retain something of its own identity, yet perversely it is only able to do so by establishing itself in relation to its new, smart surroundings. The second intervention, Space Part II0, 1998, in the gallery’s rear space, is even more dependent on the architecture for its effect. Similar materials have been used to build a screen wall extending from one side of the doorway out into the center of the room and then back toward but stopping just short of one wall, forming a short passageway into the main body of the space. The curve of this screen would seem arbitrary but for the rounded comers on the rectangular skylight opening above. A row of tacks from the materials’ earlier incarnation still protrudes from one of the upright supporting timbers. They look kind of interesting, and their presence, you think, could just be a coincidence until you notice that one or two of the small angle plates Pernice has used to fasten everything together are attached to only a single piece of wood. Then you realize it’s little more than luck that keeps the whole thing from collapsing in a heap, or, worse, from sliding into self-regarding prettiness.

Michael Archer