New York

Gedi Sibony

Neo-psychedelia had a fleeting moment a few years back, but for the better part of this decade Western contemporary art has lacked “movements.” Have critics become too skittish to proclaim a movement when they see one? Has the teeming art world simply achieved total heterogeneity? Both may be true, but, as the New Museum’s recent “Unmonumental” exhibition suggested, some of today’s sculptural work does have a somewhat unified sensibility (if not yet an umbrella term): anti-epic, reverent of the scavenged item, and concerned more with object arrangement than with object creation. Gedi Sibony may well be the poster boy for this type of art.

Sibony’s is a wispy, dandified minimalism. His assemblages are fashioned from construction and home remodeling castaways: colorless carpets, crumpled cardboard boxes, a wayward door. Often, he presents a single item of this sort as a found object. His materials are not only affectless, they’re aestheticless—more precisely, aesthetically anonymous. It’s as if Sibony has extended Oulipo’s literary construct of writing with constraints to the making of objects. Sibony’s economy of production seemed clear, even performative, at Greene Naftali; one would stroll right past these works were they not presented within a gallery. Artists who use found objects to entropic, grimy, or culturally or personally specific effect—David Hammons, Cady Noland, William Pope.L—show concerns entirely different from those of Sibony, whose materials are almost gauche in their elegance and distance.

For example, Sibony’s door sheathed in black garbage bags and leaning against a wall (The Last One, all works 2008) doesn’t convey the ambiguous, confrontational threat of lurking poverty and violence that a similar item might in the hands of Hammons or Pope.L, whose work emphasizes the “poor” quality of its materials. Sibony energizes what is thought fungible; he casts a fond eye on the styleless. Rauschenberg’s cardboard-box works from the early 1970s are precedents, but those soiled squares aren’t nearly as doting as Sibony’s. In its solitary earnestness, Sibony’s For the First and Last Day—a cardboard box leaning, like The Last One, against the wall, with smatterings of tape on its slightly imperfect faces—ripples with restrained drama. Held Made the Road is a modest freestanding construction of thin sticks forming a miniature, slanted goalpost. The Middle of the World is nothing but a curtain rod with a set of plastic blinds, but Sibony shrewdly placed it near a window and splayed it on the floor in a configuration nothing short of graceful.

Clearly, Sibony reveres the aesthetic properties of the base materials he reclaims from the scrap heap and lofts atop the mantel. But while his work has the bare-boned tenuousness and temporariness of a construction site, it doesn’t have its violence or haphazardness. His materials may be weathered, but they’re not dirty—it’s as if they were snatched from a recently remodeled corporate office. Sibony’s assemblages are freighted with a different, quieter psychological tenor than those of Hammons, Noland, or Pope.L, but—like these artists—he recognizes the unintentional as potential art. While scavenger-artists are perpetually subject to the criticism that they select more than they transform, Sibony aestheticizes the aesthetic void, and in that way he does transform.

Nick Stillman