New York

James Angus

Gavin Brown's enterprise | 620 Greenwich Street

Given the thorough interrogation of sculpture already achieved by post-Minimalism and Conceptual art, choosing to dismantle this particular artistic category might seem a bit like beating a long-dead horse. While James Angus’s second one-man show indeed restages the medium’s unraveling, it does so however from a new direction—by intersecting sculpture with a related (although ultimately distinct) form of object production, the architectural model.

Two pieces in the show, Neuschwansteins, 1998, and Falkensteins, 1999—miniature wooden replicas of castles designed for Prince Ludwig II of Bavaria—are models, plain and simple. This, despite Angus’s elaborate intervention of having “doubled” the buildings with cad software to create a composite structure, consisting of two versions of a single castle fused together (hence the “s” at the end of each castle’s name). They are also both models despite the fact that Falkenstein was never built (Neuschwanstein was completed in 1860). It’s hard to tell whether Angus thinks that “doubling” the castles propels them out of model-making into another category—sculpture, or perhaps the assisted readymade. But since a model can be defined as a mental proposal in concrete form, it would be impossible to argue that a maquette of Falkenstein is any less a model than one of Neuschwanstein. And a doubled—or for that matter quadrupled—version of Neuschwanstein is every bit as much a model as a replica of the actual building.

There is definitely one thing about models that Angus has clear: As the physical renderings of prior ideas, they subscribe to the logic of Platonic thought. Consequently, models are prone to that simulacral spin-off that dogs all forms of Platonism: Once the concept backing up the model loses its authority as a singular original, the process of representation devolves into the production of an endless series of copies. This is what the action of “doubling” the castles drives home—a point Angus reinforces by choosing to render a nineteenth-century appropriation of the Middle Ages that was itself appropriated by Disneyland (Neuschwanstein was the model for the Sleeping Beauty Castle). Neuschwansteins is thus a copy of a building that was always already a copy.

Neuschwansteins and Falkensteins serve to establish the extent to which models are a three-dimensional form of simulacrum. The rest of the works on display bring this Baudrillardian preoccupation with a loss of the “real” into the realm of sculpture, in objects that merge the structural logic of model-making with the phenomenological concerns of Minimalism. Unlike Ludwig’s castles, which rest atop pedestals, pieces like Soccerball dropped from 35,000 feet, 1999, are placed directly on the gallery floor—a cue to anyone familiar with recent art history that (like Minimalist sculpture) they are “real” objects that share the same physical space as the viewer. But Soccerball dropped . . . is also a model: It’s a plaster cast of a computer-generated diagram of what would happen to a leather soccer ball if dropped from 35,000 feet. By transposing the physical effects that an action will have on one thing to another object that—although identical in appearance—is made from a totally different material, Angus creates works of art that feel oddly disembodied. His aim seems to be an evisceration of sculpture’s phenomenological presence—its “realness,” one might say—through its fusion with the category of the model.

A clever enough idea, but one that, at least in this instance, doesn’t quite work. Leaving aside the question of whether sculpture was ever that “real” to begin with, Angus never manages to convince his audience that something meaningful has been lost. Minimalism’s phenomenological presence derived from a powerful gestalt. The object quality of Angus’s sculptures is simply not that compelling, and as a result, his demonstration of sculpture’s disembodiment remains, itself, little more than a disembodied idea.

Margaret Sundell