Ryan Gander

“There exists only one definition for everything, everywhere at any one time”: So reads the inscription disguised as a mathematical equation and engraved on Didactease, 2006, a Tiffanys sterling-silver coin discreetly worn as a pendant by a gallery assistant at Ryan Gander’s recent show, “Heralded as the New Black.” The assistant also wore a white Adidas tracksuit with embroidery resembling bloodstains, suggesting an injury despite the unmistakable decorative effect of the embroidered pattern. Both works initiate various routes of meaning depending on how and when they are experienced, exemplifying Gander’s ability to maneuver viewers along multiple interpretive frameworks—within which any supplementary information brings a sense of doubt, rather than reassurance, into play.

Not all the works were displayed in the gallery’s main space; some went far beyond it, like Your life in five acts—Onwards (London), 2008, a free takeaway tourist map of London superimposing the location of Wagamama noodle bars onto a plan of the city as it was in 1911. Most of the works were small in scale compared to the large proportions of the room, but the overall display managed to dominate, starting with a black box right at the entrance showing the film Man on a Bridge (A study of David Lange), 2008. This work was based on the simple replication of the same scene over and over again: a man leaning from a railing over a trafficked bridge in London’s East End.

Beyond the darkened space at its threshold, the main environment was reflected, minimized, and inverted inside one hundred large clear crystal balls on the floor, each containing a laser etching of a small piece of curved paper (A sheet of paper on which I was about to draw, as it slipped from my table and fell to the floor, 2008). Discreetly piled under an invigilator’s chair was Rietveld Kindling, 2008, consisting of precut segments of unpainted beech wood that can be joined together to reconstruct Gerrit Rietveld’s Red and Blue Chair, 1917.

Gander likes playing with art-historical and design styles into which he inserts, in his own words, “para-possible stories” or prosthetic corrections. The Learning Tree (When acorns fall into the wrong hands), 2008, draws inspiration from Michael Craig-Martin’s An Oak Tree, 1973, a glass of water on a high shelf accompanied by a text describing why the object is a tree. In Gander’s version, the glass of water is replaced with a replica of Josef Albers’s 1926 Lovers’ Tea Glass, made during the painter’s time at the Bauhaus. Gander filled the vessel with black oil and positioned an imitation of Craig-Martin’s shelf at a sloping angle, pointing toward a door opening onto the institution’s kitchen.

Gander combines fiction with autobiographical texts and personal items, such as those said to be contained inside two mirrored, wall-mounted boxes of different sizes, (Alchemy Box No.3), and Like the bricoleur’s daughter—(Alchemy Box No.2), both 2008. His narrative and descriptive titles imply a system of secret correspondences and indiscernible truths. She walked ahead, leading him through a blizzard of characters, 2008, is, literally, an invisible text. Commissioned from a ghostwriter, it was covered with plaster immediately after being screenprinted on a wall; Latent Lament (Oxidised silver on paper), 2008, is a photo sealed within a light-safe bag that, we are told, documents Super Black, a paint able to absorb 99 percent of visible light to render better data. Elegantly brought together in this exhibition, Gander’s works may demand labyrinthine readings, but they engage an active spectator to explore the conceptual lexicon of our visual culture.

Diana Baldon