New York

Ján Mančuška

The sculptural installation in Czech artist Ján Mančuška’s sophomore show at Andrew Kreps Gallery proposes that there are not only two sides to every story—there are three. Or, depending on how one counts, thirteen. True Story, 2005, consists of three sentences, their small words cut from aluminum and suspended at eye level on a thin steel cable anchored to the gallery walls. The “story” in question is banal enough: A man named Kenny waits in a car for a woman who might be his girlfriend; on the way to meet him she crosses paths with a black man who is running from the subway to catch a bus; this man boards the bus.

Each sentence relays the matter-of-fact tale from a different vantage point: Kenny wonders what’s taking the woman so long; she is frightened by the man’s running and waits until his bus pulls away before continuing to the car; the other man realizes that she has crossed the street to avoid him, and IT MADE HIM SICK THAT WHEN PEOPLE SEE A BLACK MAN RUN THEY THINK THAT HE WANTS TO ATTACK THEM. But the cables cross at three separate points, transecting the gallery space and encouraging the pursuit of alternative diegetic paths. Ten narrative permutations thus augment the three sentences: The black man finds it FUNNY, rather than SICK, that the woman looks scared, or it is the man waiting in the car, not the running man, who is sickened by the woman’s fear, and so on.

Although the words conjuring this scenario are bare-bones, the reading process occasioned by True Story is hardly straightforward: The sentences intersect and carom off, and other words are visible behind those that one reads, which necessitates a head-bobbing, over-and-under perambulation through the work. Mančuška’s formal choices cleverly echo his tale: Text about mirrors and rear views enacts their very effects, and the aluminum letters thicken and fuse in points, foregrounding the story’s accelerating convolution. The words most essential to making sense of the scene—HER, HIS, AS IF—are the few that hang in isolation, reinforcing their status as narrative pivots.

Mančuška claims to draw on the nonlinearity of hypertext and the concept of asynchrony (time passes, and history is recorded, differently in different places), but his installation partakes equally of Conceptual art’s pared-down textual economies and Minimal sculpture’s emphasis on the spectatorial body. With respect to the former influence True Story feels a bit thin. As Sol LeWitt wrote in these pages in 1967 in his “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” “Conceptual art is good only when the idea is good”—and it’s not exactly revelatory that even the most unremarkable situation is experientially and temporally distinct for different people, or that (to cite Henry Louis Gates Jr. citing Wallace Stevens) there are thirteen ways of looking at a black man. But another of LeWitt’s apothegms, “Any idea that is better stated in two dimensions should not be in three dimensions,” does not apply to Mančuška’s artwork and suggests a measure of his achievement: The sculptural presence of True Story dramatizes the oft-overlooked physical aspect of the activity of reading and stages a memorable confrontation between the two-dimensionality of words and the three-dimensionality of lived experience.

Lisa Pasquariello