New York

Walead Beshty


Walead Beshty has no shortage of ideas. Hot on the heels of a solo exhibition at the UCLA Hammer Museum, the Los Angeles–based artist’s second solo show at Wallspace, “The Maker and the Model,” was an eclectic collection of homages and footnotes to the work of (among others) Le Corbusier and Man Ray. Cutting across several media, including photograms, sculptures, and an ink-jet print (the last in the form of a limited edition on sale for forty bucks a square foot), it was also a demonstration of the artist’s conceptual promiscuity.

By far the most striking piece in the show was New York, New York, 2006, a clever riff on Man Ray’s iconic sculpture New York, 1917. Man Ray’s original structure comprises slats of chromed and painted bronze of varying lengths held together by a clamp to make a skyscraper- like form. Beshty’s version, two abstracted gilded buildings, doubles the original’s dimensions, lightly mocking the city’s hubris. At the same time, if the clamp in New York alludes to the suffocating routines of modern life, Beshty’s duplication—with its unmistakable echo of the Twin Towers—draws a sharp juxtaposition, reminding us that our present-day skyscrapers remain vulnerable to attack.

In contrast to New York, New York’s sophisticated outsourced production (the gallery disclosed that Beshty employed a professional fabricator), the show’s other sculpture, loquaciously titled Home Depot Modular Composition #1 (LC2 Grand Confort “Cushion Basket” Club Chair, 1928, Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, Charlotte Perriand), 2006, was relatively crude, fashioned by the artist from simple, commonplace materials. A re-creation of the bare frame of Le Corbusier’s modular Grand Confort chair made from threaded aluminum piping from Home Depot, the work circumscribes the antagonism between Le Corbusier’s advocacy of Fordism and of democratic public housing and some of his more exclusive architectural projects.

A photographic still life installed in the gallery’s office—an illustration of the show’s relaxed attitude toward lines of demarcation—offered a still deeper exploration of Le Corbusier. Taking his cue from the fact that the architect would demand the inclusion of specific props in press pictures of his building’s interiors, Beshty rephotographed a few of these objects (including a gray hat and a pair of sunglasses) in his studio, stripping them of their original context.

Both Man Ray and Le Corbusier are, of course, pseudonyms, a modernist troubling of identity that Beshty exploits (in a thinly veiled reference to Marcel Duchamp’s Rrose Sélavy) in Armand Hammer’s Mistress, 2006, a small self-portrait in drag hung in the main gallery. Nearby, a series of eleven photograms—each titled Picture Made by My Hand with the Assistance of Light, 2006—conjured the experimental photography of Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy. Acutely self-referential, each piece was constructed by subjecting crumpled sheets of silver gelatin paper to light, making portraits of the paper’s own bends and folds.

The press release described the show as “a kind of Modernist Hall of Mirrors,” and while some of the works reinforced this catoptric organizational logic, at heart the sentiment was a weak attempt to thematize the grouping of otherwise diverse experiments. (Additionally, Beshty also appealed to a looming “libidinal substructure,” which, sexy as it sounded, felt like little more than rhetorical lubrication.) “The Maker and the Model” would have benefited from a more selective approach; a photographic installation titled 50 Unidentified Women, 2006, though intriguing, felt extraneous here, while Xray Picture (LAX-JFK/JFK-LAX), 2006, a print created from a blank negative exposed while passing through airport security, was more of an afterthought to the artist’s Hammer exhibition. A leaner show, one that concentrated on fleshing out just a few ideas, might have generated less fragile intersections.

David Velasco