New York

Sergio Prego

Lehmann Maupin | New York, W 22 Street

In Italo Calvino’s 1967 story “The Chase,” a desperate car pursuit is slowed to a snail’s pace when hunter and quarry become mired in a traffic jam. It’s a scenario that one imagines Spanish artist Sergio Prego might appreciate, his manipulations of time and space reaching for a similarly paradoxical flavor. Prego’s recent exhibition, his first at Lehmann Maupin, comprised two videos and two sculptures, all of which confound—to varying degrees—our tendency to distill a chaotic visual world into manageably consistent images and to simplify patterns of events into linear sequences.

Prego’s most recent video, 10° to 0° (all works 2006), shares the highway setting of Calvino’s tale, but more directly references Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solyaris (1972). Tarkovsky’s film, of course, is set in the future, but the portions that take place on earth were shot without benefit of “futuristic” set dressing; in the famous highway scene, we see a parade of early-’70s Soviet-made cars. Using four cameras to document a drive though Tokyo, Prego has produced a filmic portrait of the city that echoes this interlude. Yet while the press release claims that Tarkovsky’s sequence has been “updated,” the environment on which Prego trains his lenses collapses back so frequently into contemporary urban banality that we wonder if any point is being made that diverges from the Russian director’s, unless it is simply that even depiction of the future is perpetually beyond our reach.

More arresting, if only for its technical razzle-dazzle, is the show’s other video, Black Monday. Prego used a ring of forty synchronized cameras to capture images of seventeen flares and explosions triggered inside an abandoned factory in Bilbao. Sequenced on a computer into a linked set of herky-jerky stop-motion-style animations, the clouds of smoke and showers of sparks—fleeting, ethereal things—are transformed into seemingly graspable static forms. As we circle each frozen blast, to the accompaniment of a sound track that evokes the disjointed music of “glitch” electronica pioneers Oval, each puff of vapor assumes its own personality. Even for those familiar with the technique (versions of which have cropped up in movies and on TV repeatedly since 1998’s Buffalo 66 and, more notoriously, 1999’s The Matrix), the effect is disarmingly lovely, albeit primarily ornamental.

The show’s two sculptures leave a less lasting impression. Untitled is a wall of six steel panels that diagonally bisects the entrance gallery. A shallow dent runs across its front surface from lower left to upper right, while from the back, a support structure of aluminum tubing and black sandbags is visible. Although formally reminiscent of constructions by Liam Gillick and Jason Rhoades, the work lacks their conceptual heft, ending up as something more like a flat-pack Richard Serra. While the videos, whatever their shortcomings, do more with time than just fill it, all Untitled really does with space is take it up.

Similarly, Sunoid suffers by comparison to more senior artists’ work, evoking Bruce Nauman and Dan Flavin in particular but failing to reach the heights of either one (a tall order, admittedly). Consisting of two white fluorescent tubes affixed to a jointed mechanical arm, the sculpture seems designed to move—but on both my visits to the gallery sat tantalizingly motionless. Even allowing it the benefit of the doubt, it is difficult to discern quite what Sunoid might offer beyond a combination of fleeting gee-whiz thrill and the achingly unrealized potential of an early robotics experiment. Like Calvino’s gridlocked protagonists, Prego’s practice is dependent on technology, and here seemed stuck in a holding pattern.

Michael Wilson