Los Angeles

Michael Queenland

Daniel Hug

Michael Queenland made his auspicious solo debut at Daniel Hug in 2004 with a series of enigmatic black-and-white photographs and a select assembly of tables and stacked pallets on which he arranged an idiosyncratic collection of books and images or displayed spare, haunted sculptures (in one, a small chopstick scaffold traps cobwebs and Styrofoam packing peanuts); he managed to escape the desultory by adhering to his gently severe aesthetic and unlocking the surprising auratic potential of his outwardly impoverished materials.

In his recent show “X X,” Queenland capitalized on his earlier stark maneuvers. Much of the work here was previously shown at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the Maine College of Art, where the artist responded to the architecture, furniture, and atmosphere of the Sabbathday Lake United Society of Shakers in New Gloucester, Maine. Queenland channels Shaker “simplicity” with his ongoing interest in radical belief systems. As curator Toby Kamps has written: “Queenland . . . sees a continuum between Shakers, Davidians and Minimal and Conceptual artists of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as between icons—both positive and negative—of American ingenuity, self-sufficiency and conviction, from Henry David Thoreau . . . to Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber.”

Shaker Unit, 2005, a large black flight of shelves holding two compact readymades, a small red dish and a wooden vaselike container, dominated the installation. During his residency in Maine, Queenland collaborated with woodworking and furniture-design students to refabricate exemplary pieces of Shaker furniture at an enlarged scale; here, he showed framed photographs of many of these objects in situ at Sabbathday Lake, the resulting mute totems—Shaker Hand Mirror with Shadow, Box, Mirror on Hanger, and Utility Rack (all 2005)—removed from their original context at least twice over. Strangely, this process seemed to italicize the difficulty of instantiating modalities of belief while at the same time retaining some residue of their mystery.

Knit (Radical Since 1774 #3), 2006, a collage, diagrammatizes and “knits” together many of these concerns: An ink drawing of a six-pointed, god’s-eye-like design constellates the photocopied portrait of a Shaker knitter, repeated and situated at each of the six points, her head replaced by the heads of key artistic influences, including Donald Judd, Ann Truitt, and Sol LeWitt. This transtemporal transgendering encourages one to question the artist’s own negotiation of gender, sexuality, and race, and the ways in which those issues might inflect a reading of the metaphorical potential of his reduced palette of black, white, and red (colors invoking the sterner veins of Minimalism and Conceptualism while retaining their concurrent Black Power, Gay Rights, and antiauthoritarian significations).

In depicting certain procedural predecessors, Queenland occludes others who may be even more pertinent to his project: for instance, Richard Pettibone, whose own Shaker appropriations and enlargements found in that ecstatic, celibate radicality foundational structures for artists as different as Constantin Brancusi and Ezra Pound, and, an even more peculiar omission, Dan Graham, whose 1982–84 Rock My Religion video attempted a hip if inconclusive meditation on gender, race, and belief by finding Shaker founder Ann Lee’s attitude in the form of rocker Patti Smith. These odd (unconscious?) elisions point to certain unresolved aspects of Queenland’s otherwise often compelling practice. What is the consequence of returning to these fundamentals, if not quite fundamentalisms, at a time when certain strains of American and Islamic zealotry wreak such havoc, havoc not unconnected to inequities of gender and sexuality? In Black Catcher, 2006, a fey orange compact mirror dangles from a splayed, starlike, unfinished black Shaker basket. I wish it were not so unclear whose face might be reflected there.

Bruce Hainley