Dan Arps

Gambia Castle

Taped to the gallery door was a note in agitated ballpoint capitals: DARREN, it warns, THIS PLACE IS UNDER POLICE SERVAILANCE ENTER AT YOUR OWN PERIL. Curiously, though, the anonymous author of this misspelled welcome continues: HOPFULLY ILL BE HERE WE CAN TALK. The found text provides a vivid cue to a scenographic presentation typical of Arps’s recent shows, in which exhibition spaces have been cast, in part through their titles, as bunker, dungeon, and ranch. Here in “Explaining Things,” the windows in the exhibition space were boarded up, and some battered outdoor furniture alluded obliquely to Marcel Broodthaers’s classic work Décor: A Conquest (1975), which similarly proposed its assemblage of readymades and inventions as a stage set.

Arps’s conceit draws a variety of visual languages into a single, if opaque, narrative. Deadpan found objects—a cardboard box, some newspaper, a string—also read as careful, if nonchalant, formal gestures, while the more conventionally crafted elements appear both as examples of painting or sculpture and as conceptual props. Several pieces, including one that consists simply of a smudge of purple oil paint on a print of Pacific palms, and a more elaborate, Isa Genzken-esque, expressively daubed and wrapped crystal shop sculpture—an owl perching over a glass globe of the sort where the electrical discharge will play its miniature lightning to the movement of your fingertip—combine popular art with precise but antitechnical facture. A consistent aim is for the unlabored; the plastic seating, too, doubles as objet trouvé and practical furniture, a setting for conversation or a place from which to view the loop of found video playing on a television on the floor. The sequence extends Arps’s appropriation of new age and therapeutic materials, which he has used to suggest an equivalence between art and self-help. A lurid computer-generated depiction of astral travel and a particularly unconvincing psychic reading smear into a chunky blur as YouTube resolution distorts on the monitor. Human desire for some kind of connection or transcendence—and the aesthetic strangeness of mass culture’s response to such desires—is perhaps most gruesomely confronted in a simple arrangement on painted cardboard of pornographic images with an actor made up as E.T.

A wrinkled, water-stained commercial print of a female golfer is collaged with another found object, a hand-drawn sketch including the words PROMOTIONAL MARKETING CONCEPTS and a feeble rendition of the letters PMC as a logo. This detail is obviously a draft, something not intended for public consumption, and it resonates with the fiction of the gallery as an abandoned private space. The sense that we may never have been intended to understand or even see these things further estranges them and makes it impossible to be sure whether to view the work as either cynical or humorous, ironic or sincere. Containing its own critique in this way, the work is both a parody and an authentic form of individual expression—of which it critically asserts the value, both within and beyond the frame of artistic tradition and commerce.

Jon Bywater