Julian Opie

Everything here is a sample. What do you want—man or woman? Both? Separately or together? Make the choice, then decide on their poses. They can stand, kneel, sit, or maybe recline, propped up on one elbow. You can dress them to taste as well, like Barbie or the fridge-magnet woman with the range of stick-on outfits. To make things extra specially convenient they come in a range of sizes and formats to suit your individual needs, available space, and budget: large images on vinyl, small color photos on board, highway signs, wallpaper, memorial slabs, window stickers, computer programs, light boxes, or wooden sculptures. The full range of products, on offer in the catalogue, is so rich and varied that only a small selection could be displayed here. But don’t worry, because there are plenty of other showrooms in Wolfsburg, New York, Delhi, Zurich, Boston, and, oh, all over the place. Buildings, cars, landscapes, people, food, pets—the whole of life is purchasable. And when you have lived h the city, traveled the countryside, and admired all the views, after you’ve mingled with the crowd and chatted with friends, you can even buy a gravestone.

“I would like to make a painting and then walk into it,” Julian Opie is quoted as saying. His world could be a comfortable cipher for the real thing, a set of generic and anodyne simplifications, were it not for the fact that Opie’s world, though rendered through the technology of the computer, is the world itself. The portraits, for example, several of which form part of this exhibition, have names. The flat, simplified style of their line-drawn faces suggests a set of identikit variations, each the equivalent of all the others. But when you know that Birgid is a philosopher (Birgid, philosopher, 1999), Max a businessman (Max, businessman, 2000) and David a schoolboy (David, schoolboy, 2000), their flesh tones cease to be arbitrary, their hair styles are no longer interchangeable, their clothes represent choices, and their features become expressive of minds. That they have opinions just like us is evident in two computer films. In one, Daniel nods his head yes (Daniel yes, 1999), and in the other, Christine shakes hers no (Christine no, 1999). On another wall we meet Fiona (This is Fiona, 2000), who blinks, smiles at us, blinks, raises her eyebrows inquisitively, and blinks again.

The 3-D figures, vinyl outlines stuck onto groups of primary-colored blocks, occupy the floor like sculptures, things waiting to be looked at. But their elementary shapes—heads, for example, are no more than cubes with a circle on the side—invite us to understand our encounter with them as one in which subjectivity and objecthood have been jumbled, as if Robert Morris’s gestalts had been colonized by Mike Kelley’s romper room perversions of them. One feels the universality of an idea such as Lying on back on elbows knees up, 2000, or Sitting hands around knees, 2000, only through the memory of a similar event. A comparable sensation occurs in front of the series of views—color images on light boxes that also contain sound systems playing the noises indicated in their titles. An image of sunlight-dappled sea is accompanied by appropriate sounds—waves seagulls voices, 2000. It is a common enough juxtaposition, because we have all experienced it in some place at some time, and will do so again somewhere else in the future. We can assemble a world from Opie’s kit, not because it is technologically distanced and objectively observable, but because we know it intimately.

Michael Archer