Callum Morton

Callum Morton is a young artist based in Melbourne, where he attracted considerable attention in the mid-’90s by grafting prefabricated windows and balconies onto gallery walls. Like Christo’s Storefronts of 1964–65, these were almost two-dimensional: melancholic Minimalist facades. Over the last couple of years, a historicist trajectory has become more apparent in his work. He now makes doll’s-house settings for reconstructed art-historical or cultural moments, similar in spirit to the ones in German artist Thomas Demand’s recent photographs. In one recent work, Accademia, 1998, he made a 3:4 scale model of the garage in which the lead singer of the rock band AC/DC once rehearsed. International Style, 1999, previously seen at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, sits alone in the darkened gallery on a step-up pedestal. It’s a 1:4 scale model of Mies van der Rohe’s famous Farnsworth House, 1945–50, and its miniature plate-glass windows are almost completely curtained off, preventing us from seeing but not from hearing a Lilliputian cocktail party going on inside. The sound track lasts several minutes, interrupted by the sudden sounds of screaming and, finally, a gunshot. It’s a cute touch: Morton makes a model of modernist patriarchy (the Farnsworth House remains a symbol of modernism at its hegemonic, dominating extreme), then stages a murder. Morton’s model-making is very clever, for in its deconstruction of modernism it positions itself as a continuation rather than an end. Without any perceptible rhetorical anxiety at all, Morton knows that art is predicated on the survival of certain structures. But the survival of art, incarnated in Farnsworth House, is less important for him than its availability is. Morton assumes both the building’s iconic significance and its obsolescence—except as melodramatic setting. After all, Farnsworth House, once finished, became the occasion for litigation between Edith Farnsworth and the architect, who had designed a weekender without privacy; with this in mind, the taped gunshot echoes like the Death of the (Miesean) Father.

International Style also pulls Minimalist art inside out, for the same patricidal narrative was always potential in that movement (and explicit in the framing discourses of Donald Judd’s highly moralistic art criticism). Minimalist artists, however, did not wish to bluntly spell out in their work their awareness that art was not disinterested; Morton does. He proceeds, like the Minimalists, from a critique of a particular type of modernist formalism—in this case, the International Style. But he tilts Minimalist geometry into parodic, narrative model-making. Here, ambiguity, anthropomorphism, and historical archaeology are conceived of as properties of sculpture; in a 1999 interview Morton said, “The model of looking or staring that I’m interested in is a more representational or pictorial model than an abstract one.” International Style appropriates textual disruption from late modernism’s and Minimalism’s worst enemy—Pop art. For all three, Morton’s synthesis is a nightmare come true.

Charles Green