San Francisco

Marco Maggi

Like a lot of good art, part of the reason Marco Maggi’s work is engaging is that it brings so many other things to mind. His inventions and ideas evoke a range of allusions—to the complexity of Mayan codices or the horror vacui of some outsider art; to the refinement of line in a Hans Bellmer drawing or the dreamy, visceral oddness of one of Matta’s floating abstractions—but such multiple references don’t make his work seem any less original. About half of the pieces in this show are pencil drawings on clay-coated board. Exquisite accumulations of faint, needle-thin lines form complicated yet open-ended fields of tiny organic shapes, floating on a rectangle of pristine white. Because of their delicacy, these drawings are all but invisible at anything like a conventional viewing distance. (As with Persian miniatures, a magnifying glass would be a useful aid.) In a second group of works, Maggi’s tiny marks have been made with an etching tool on sheets of aluminum foil that are then presented on the reverse side. The light relief of areas of improvised pattern suggests a handmade circuit board, or perhaps a message written in an ecstatic form of Braille.

Maggi also makes sculpture. One piece, a composition comprising squares of foil-backed rigid foam insulation, seems like a less interesting version of gestures and ideas explored elsewhere in the show. However, in Breakfast and Breakslow and Micro and Soft on Macintosh Apples (all works 1999), Maggi’s willingness to experiment with materials is more successful. Intricate patterns of lines have been scratched into the skins of apples that are then air-dried over many months. The wizened, scarified fruit, lined up like so many tiny shrunken heads on steel shelves, is beautiful and repulsive at the same time.

Everything in the show exudes a kind of labor-intensiveness, making the number of pieces on view—nearly sixty, all of them completed in the last nine months—that much more astonishing. In general, however, there’s a lightness to this work: not only in terms of the deft touch with which it has been made but also in the humor that peeks through its elegantly modernist facade. In Untitled Reynolds, Maggi cracks a mischievous Pop-inflected joke about the seriousness of “high” art. A roll of Reynolds Wrap foil appears to have been drawn on and then carefully replaced in its box. The fragment that is visible implies that there is more, though we must take this on faith. Another group of pieces offers a joke that artists, critics, and dealers alike might appreciate. Plastic sheets pinned to the wall contain “slides,” each one actually a tiny drawing on paper or aluminum foil instead of a piece of film. One imagines that with or without a slide projector Maggi’s work must be virtually impossible to see in this format—one in which most artists’ work is frequently viewed. Yet everywhere, beneath the humor, there’s a dead-serious message. Maggi’s intention is to make slow art: to have us take the time to look, rather than just give each piece a cursory glance from the middle of the room. “Myopia,” he suggests in a statement accompanying the show, is the “best answer to globalization . . . delicacy is a subversive activity and to pay attention is really shocking.”

Maria Porges