Martin Boyce

Galerie Eva Presenhuber

It seems fitting that an exhibition of Martin Boyce’s work—the forms and materials of functional apparatus transferred to an artistic context—should be presented in the complex of galleries and museums at the heart of Zurich’s regenerated industrial quarter. Acclaimed for his appropriation and deconstruction of designer icons from the ’60s and ’70s, Boyce now seems to be shifting his interest to the psychological and emotional spaces of more generic external environments. From the utopian vision of modernism propagated by the Eameses or Arne Jacobsen, he has turned to communal urban spaces—in this case, the swimming pool—that people occupy and make their own.

The specially constructed chain-link fencing, beach chairs, garbage cans, and abstracted beach-umbrella shapes hover between their immediately recognizable functional origins and the sculptural narrative they aspire to. The main gallery was occupied by an installation that drew out the slightly oppressive atmosphere of the space. A hinged “door,” constructed from a white metal beach chair laid over a more abstract grill mesh, operated graphically—a two-dimensional sculpture. It also declared some of the key ideas in the exhibition, from the swimming pool theme to Boyce’s ongoing preoccupation with the extended grid structures that characterize built environments, as well as the refusal of the objects to fit neatly within a single medium.

The grid, together with another stalwart in Boyce’s vocabulary, the spiderweb, appeared in the three beach chairs and the radiating neon strips of the five parasols. The sole source of light in the room, these recalled a Beckettian stage set filtered through comic-book reductionism and the macho coolness of ’80s office environments. Compelling for their simple elegance, the umbrellas also brought to mind trees stripped bare by nuclear fallout. Although clearly installed to relate to one another in the space, the beach chairs, umbrellas, and trash cans seemed to suggest endless possibilities for repositioning, reflecting both the open-endedness of Boyce’s hints at a narrative and the repeatability across the globe of this ultimately mundane scenario.

The swimming pool theme was amplified in the second space, where a drain set into the floor indicated a sewage system and therefore conceptually linked the gallery space with the outside. Echoing the slanted waste bins, the drain was also shaped as a parallelogram. Only this minimal distortion called attention to its status as sculpture, thereby highlighting the constructed nature of the other elements with which it shared the situational context. A coiled, yellow metal tube recalled a hose pipe but bore the minimal but intense color that is so important to Boyce’s work. A white beach chair on its side conveyed the impression of a recently abandoned pool; its height also contrasted with the other elements to structure the space, forming a composition to be read from various angles, a kind of three-dimensional painting. In contrast, the garbage can in the adjoining space was warped so exaggeratedly, comic-book style, that its pent-up energy threatened to disrupt the controlled stillness elsewhere. This touch of humor provided a welcome counterpoint to the otherwise mute hermeticism of the exhibition.

Felicity Lunn