New York

Gareth James

American Fine Arts

Origami may seem a funny way to “articulate the persistence of the logic of capitalist property relations in the visual,” but Gareth James’s working concept here is topology, and what better way to visualize nonlinear space-times than via the fold? James folds paper in order to depict a world that operates through the managed undermining of fixed identities and once-stable borders. The topological fold—for James, a sort of upgraded analytical cubism—is also a means of deconstructing a received picture of the world in order to elaborate approaches equal to the conditions under which the artist lives and works. It is a creative and critical weapon, allowing material and concept to become, once again, mutually contaminated. James’s so-called origami is, then, a provisional, unapologetically formalist way to reanimate abstract thought in the space of the gallery.

The show’s title, “Get Real Estate,” penetrates immediately to the root cause of this gallery’s imminent closure: the dynamics of the Chelsea real-estate market. Real estate is also a topological concern, articulated not only in the complex interplay of folds and cuts on territories of large sheets of paper but in the relational games James sets into motion among his sculptures, the drawings that precede them, the appropriated newspaper pages that provide source images for two of the three drawings, and his works’ playfully destabilizing titles. R5, 2004, for example, is a framed page of the September 28, 1997, issue of the New York Times, a plot of journalistic real estate on which two articles share space: one about the Garibaldi memorial on Staten Island, the other about a government initiative to promote investment in the housing market. Teletrofono, 2004 (the title of which refers to a failed attempt to patent the telephone by Garibaldi’s housemate and compatriot Antonio Meucci), is the pencil drawing James used to plan the baroque system of folds made around a single, uninterrupted cut that would eventually become Sweat Equity (whose title leads us back to the article about the housing market), 2004, a paper sculpture of the Garibaldi memorial. These three works map out a topological space in which various histories converge: the pre- and post-9/11 housing markets, the emigration of an Italian revolutionary to New York in 1850, the possible theft of Meucci’s invention by Alexander Graham Bell, and the interdependency of the art and property markets in present-day Manhattan.

This mapping happens across the separate works as well as between the temporal events that mark James’s working process (from reading and drawing, to cutting and folding, to installing and titling). The finished sculpture Sweat Equity—with its lopsided posture and splayed columns—is a disaster because something apparently went amiss between the drawing and folding stages. But James’s approach is conceptual, not always rationalist, and exact measurement is not his first concern. Rather, his point is to unfold a process and to emphasize the contingency of leaping from one territory to the next.

Other works are based around a collapsed dance floor in Jerusalem, Albanian rebels in Macedonia, Siamese twins, and a makeshift security device for a truck in downtown Los Angeles. Three of James’s sculptures are presented on stark plywood bases, encased within cubes of clear and two-way mirrored Plexiglas. These display systems evoke the serious glamour of Minimalist and post-Minimalist artworks while retaining the bleak, high-security feel of today’s banks and taxis. By encasing his intricate, fragile, happily wilting topologies within these shiny vitrines, James stages a dialectic between the emancipatory potential of his nonlinear strategies and the forces that would manage and contain them.

John Kelsey