Ryan Gander

In much modern art, the beholder is “given” suggestive elements—such as a waterfall and illuminating gas—without much guidance toward an authoritative interpretation. Ryan Gander presents himself as a fervent proponent of this open-ended aesthetic: In a catalogue text accompanying his 2005 installation The Alpinist, Gander explained that the visitors were “given” a year (in the future), a character (an Alpinist), five hundred “completely alien” objects (seemingly made from concrete), and, lastly, moonlight. Gander closed his statement by asking “What would you give in return?” It is a question that looms equally large over his latest show, “Your Clumsiness Is the Next Man’s Stealth.”

The gallery’s central space was dominated by A Slowing of the Spectator’s Eye, 2005, a fiberglass relief wall mimicking poured concrete; its gray tilted squares recalled both ’70s architecture and some forms of later-modernist and minimalist art. In front of this stood Your Life in Three Acts, 2005–2006, some cardboard boxes offering maps of Amsterdam with old streets and alleys that no longer exist drawn in. The third and last element was Comic Cosmology, 2005, an animation of the starry logotype of the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens. Both the stars and the wall bear a certain family resemblance to what is depicted in the photo in the front room: a London building with a blue LED asterisk in a window, accompanied by a sentence on the adjoining wall reading, “*The significance of this place has not yet been realized.” Together, photo and sentence make up A Drama Set in Loy Us, 2006—the title being a near anagram of “My Sara Lane Studio.” As is often the case with Gander, one might ask if the elements in this show are really that intriguing—or even meant to be. Such questions can hardly be avoided, since Gander’s project relies on statements of intent (by the artist, and by others on his behalf) that proclaim the emancipation of the spectator as part of the artist’s project. The author proclaims the death of the author.

The gallery’s narrow—and by Gander’s standards almost cluttered—back room followed up the late-modernist theme with a stack of copies of Gander’s children’s book The Boy Who Always Looked Up, 2004, on architect Ernö Goldfinger and his late-’60s Tellick Tower in London. The appearance of two other pieces was in part determined by “assistants”: On Significance: Drawings One to Five, 2006, a suite of drawings purporting to depict crime or mystery locations, was made by the artist’s father following his son’s instructions; and two thoroughly nonfunctional “reconstructions” of Rietveld’s lounge chair resulted from “consultations” with two children. The chair constructions are accompanied by plastic “mystery bags” bought at a London library: For two pounds, you get a load of cheap paperbacks sight unseen, only the genre being specified. With their weak aura of banal mystery, the book bags seem to call Gander’s own project into question, as do the rather silly non-chairs with which they have been teamed up. In theory, it is of course perfectly possible to weave complex interpretations around Gander’s motifs, but the question is whether these elements and the constellations they form are really inviting one to “give something in return.” Taken from various contexts, Gander’s given elements are cultural ruins whose allegorical resurrection remains uncertain. At the very least, Gander’s conceptual dime-store mystery has the merit of thoroughly demystifying other artists’ systematic production of profundity.

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