New York

“Living Inside the Grid”

By now, the uses and abuses of the grid are well known and well theorized. That simple network of verticals and horizontals is thoroughly modern in concept and perhaps as far from nature as you can get. It’s as vulnerable to technological metaphors as it is receptive to spiritual ones, which is why Mondrian liked it so much. Having spawned innumerable canvases and reams and reams of artspeak, the grid can be employed to suggest the limitless—or to delineate a structure of tight control.

In “Living Inside the Grid,” curator Dan Cameron’s thematic emphasis is on the “inhabited grid.” Though this is supposed to imply more than the built environment, architectural structures and domestic spaces receive the most attention. The museum’s own lobby, for instance, seems to have been enlarged by the play of light from the shiny panels making up Ana Maria Tavares’s Station 2003, 2002–2003. Glass Conduits, 1999, by Rita McBride, also plays off its site: Glass ducts resembling old-fashioned pneumatic tubes appear to pierce the museum’s floor and ceiling, as if attempting to forge a physical connection between the two levels.

The home is envisioned in various ways, all of which play on a past idea of a “convenient” future. We have the portable, as in Roland Boden’s small, square Urban Shelter Units, 2000, the benefits of which are elaborated in an infomercial-style video; the permeable, as in Closet I, 2003, Do-Ho Suh’s translucent nylon closet; and the modular, as in Public Things, 2000, an “ecologically self-sufficient environment” by the four-person Copenhagen-based collective N55. This work has a functional bed, toilet, and kitchen and some seating; it even provides a generic sound track for the second floor. Still, it feels strangely limiting for something without walls. Is it my imagination, or is a large-scale, multipurpose sculpture outfitted with seating and/or mobile wash unit now requisite for every survey show from here to Kassel?

Other projects move away from private life to riff on the invisible reach of the communications grid. In Sean Snyder’s Dallas Southfork in Hermes Land, Slobovia, Romania, 2001–2002, a video and photographs depict a wealthy businessman who has re-created J.R. Ewing’s Texas manse in the Romanian countryside using a design based solely on what he’d seen on TV. Don a pair of headphones at Marko Peljhan’s System 29—Tactical Orientation Order: A Work of the Resolution Series (begun in 1997), and you’ll hear radio signals from all over the world. Unfortunately, most of what comes through is static: Conceptually solid, the project’s dependence on erratic transmissions lessens its practical punch. Also nominally interactive is Camille Utterback’s External Measures, 2002, in which motion-detecting software charts viewers’ floor movements on the wall. While this piece isn’t about much more than the technology itself, it does in part succeed as an illustration of the omnipresence of surveillance—hinting that there’s no such thing as an autonomous, uncharted movement in a world superintended by cameras, heat-sensing technology, and retinal scans.

Themes of privacy and containment are considered more deftly in two performance videos by the French-Israeli artist Absalon, who died in 1993. In one, Propositions d’Habitation, 1991, we see the artist, wearing white, vaguely institutional clothing, interact with various blocky forms that resemble furniture. His silent execution of uncertain yet programmatic movements—placing his head inside an urn, reclining stiffly in a narrow U-shaped “bed”—speaks to the discomfiture that’s with us even when we’re alone (and to the psychological weight of the ever-present grid).

The rarely shown Absalon videos, and other thoughtful works by Jennifer Bolande, Tomoko Takahashi, Langlands & Bell, and Mark Lombardi, are solid points of engagement in a show that feels oddly muted and nonconfrontational for a project touted as a critical look at a pivotal contemporary trope. With its international selection of artists, ambitious theoretical scope, and timely, tech-savvy works, “Living Inside the Grid” suggests a risk-free trial run of Cameron’s upcoming Istanbul Biennial. Maybe he’s holding the really good stuff back for September.

Meghan Dailey