Toby Ziegler

Chisenhale Gallery

Although Toby Ziegler’s exploration of pictorial space—its artifice and illusion—leads him to make objects as often as paintings, the organizing impulse behind it is fundamentally that of a painter. The impressive range of the works here—three paintings, several sorts of three-dimensional objects, and a rug—showed his willingness to push a highly focused project as far as it will go, encompassing classical perspective, the flat space of abstraction, and the digital field of information. The objects represent the folding of these planar manifestations into geometric or representational volumes that might be thought of as excrescences of the pictorial into the real. A secondary concern is with light: the direct light produced by the bulbs inside the translucent paper-and-film sculptures, the reflected light from the Scotchbrite fabric that Ziegler often uses as the support for his paintings, and the specifically pictorial light produced by the interaction of colors on a surface.

Ziegler develops these concerns on the basis of a single building block, a six-sided shieldlike module used sometimes as a flat, colored, geometric shape parallel to the picture plane but more often deployed in perspectival recession. He builds pinwheel formations of six or eight of these units or sometimes arrays them in mirrored pairs, repeated to describe surfaces and volumes. The emphasis is always on the pattern as an arbitrary code, yet one never quite loses sight of the image it creates. These are generic in nature—landscapes (Designated for Leisure and Arrow of Longing [both 2004]) and urban plazas (Enter Desire, 2005) devoid of particularity or inhabitants. They seem to be neither real places nor abstractions from real places but possibly models for places yet to be realized. Although the handling of the paint is mostly crisp and clean, the evidence of the painter’s hand is never quite absent, and occasionally the application becomes surprisingly loose and approximate.

Among the sculptures were two hanging, translucent paper lamps based on triangular geometric structures evocative of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic system. Ziegler assigns each triangular side a single color in True North, 2004, which would not look out of place in a modern interior-design store. Its giant big brother, the ten-foot-high Slugs on the Cabbage of Bliss, 2005, is decorated with imagery familiar from the paintings but somewhat more abstracted. In Untitled Rug, 2004, Ziegler cuts patterns of his signature shield shapes out of a Persian rug and fills them with pieces from a different rug. Unfortunately, the design introduced by the artist gets lost amid the intricacies created by the anonymous weavers—the show’s only misstep.

Finally, the most striking of the sculptures takes the principle of construction in triangular facets out of the abstract realm and into representation. I Wish I Was a Hole in the Ground, 2005, is a sphinx—closer in spirit to the replica found in Pee-wee’s playhouse than the original at Giza—whose surface, once again, sports a highly generalized perspectival space described by means of a matrix of six- sided units. Ziegler’s systematic approach to artmaking attains a sort of wacky grandeur. What is the riddle posed, not by this sphinx alone but by Ziegler’s cold and luminous spaces? Presumably, that of the human presence that haunts them.

Barry Schwabsky