David Lieske

Rowley Kennerk Gallery

“As a term, pluralism signifies no art specifically. Rather, it is a situation that grants a kind of equivalence; art of many sorts is made to seem more or less equal—equally (un)important. Art becomes an arena not of dialectical dialogue but of vested interests.” In his 1985 essay “Against Pluralism,” Hal Foster aligned the ideology of pluralism with the function of market forces. Today, that correspondence is an all-pervasive reality, clearly evident—colored by varying degrees of self-awareness—in the work of such artists as the young German David Lieske.

Lieske recently enjoyed his first US solo exhibition, a two-part installation titled “il mio solo e la realta (my only idol is reality) (room I + II)” that was so welcoming of coincidence and misunderstanding as to appear, ultimately, arbitrary. In the first part of the show, a thirteen-minute 16-mm black-and-white film was projected onto the gallery wall, the single, static shot depicting a display of lighting equipment appropriated from a filmmaking manual. As the film progresses, the camera zooms in on the image until the screen eventually becomes a rectangle of pure white light. The resultant brightening of the black-painted gallery brought two silkscreen prints hung adjacent to the screen into sharper focus.

The film has a clear precedent in Hollis Frampton’s A Lecture, 1968, in which a similarly all-white screen is accompanied by a spoken narrative that deconstructs cinematic convention by drawing attention to the medium’s formal elements. Lieske’s project initiates a fundamentally modernist dialogue that recalls the visual experiments of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Mies van der Rohe. Lieske’s reference to the significatory possibilities of lighting, and the abstract look of the equipment itself, here combine to suggest a complex if inconclusive reinvestigation of the medium and its meanings.

In the show’s second part, the measured visual choreography of the film gave way to a disappointingly conventional display of three apparently unrelated objects. The film, now in a can leaning against the inside of a Plexiglas vitrine, was juxtaposed with il mio solo idolo e la realta (Philip Sollmann), 2007, a romantic-looking black-and-white photograph of a friend of Lieske’s standing in a rocky landscape and gripping a book titled Lost Continents, and a photograph by Lynn Goldsmith titled Pasolini et Vie, 1976, which shows Patti Smith posing in front of a wall marked with the title of the work.

This arrangement was a concise illustration of Foster’s observation that pluralism erodes genuine dialogue. Lieske himself seems to understand this problem, claiming that he continually questions his own work’s “decisiveness,” but his argument is finally self-defeating: The film’s apparently serious engagement with modernist history is subsequently framed as illusory, its supposed commitment undercut by Lieske’s own vested interests. The show in toto thus appears to present viewers with a disheartening reversal, a potentially critical project rendered impotent by indecision.

Michelle Grabner