New York

Anne Eastman

ATM Gallery

Anne Eastman’s first solo exhibition in New York used mobiles made of wood, mirrors, and fishing line to ardently sample a range of early-twentieth-century art, from Russian Constructivism and Surrealism to the kinetic sculptures of Duchamp and Calder. She seemed particularly fixated on Moholy-Nagy: One work carried the lubricious title Oh! László, suggesting excitement or titillation. Its small Plexiglas mirrors, suspended within a black wooden frame, primarily offered fleeting reflections of gallery visitors. As in the rest of the show, Eastman’s modestly articulated take on abstraction and identity here proved more intriguing than her references to other art.

While Eastman’s exhibition was clearly inspired by art history, it was ultimately too timid to explore the ideologies that underpinned earlier practices. Gentle and genteel, it brought to mind the design aesthetic of the 1960s and ’70s (and contemporary artists such as Carol Bove and Peter Coffin) more than the avant-garde experiments of the ’20s and ’30s. Still, an interpretation of Eastman’s works based solely upon their qualities as design objects is hard to sustain in light of the three videos also in the show. For You Are Not Just a Meaningless Fragment, 2008, the artist trains her camera on the moving reflecting discs of one of her large mirrored mobiles, revealing scenes of a youthful crowd milling about during an opening or an open studio, sipping beers and chatting. Yet through Eastman’s voyeuristic gaze, the experiential and participatory aspects are here made secondary, the work focusing on the mobiles as closed systems, paradoxically operating independently of external perspectives.

Seeing the works in person is a very different, almost interactive affair. The wind created by the movements of viewers around the gallery slowly modified the orientation of the mobiles’ mirrored discs, highlighting their kinetic qualities and creating an experience of fragmentation and doubling that provided a slight, pleasurable sense of the uncanny. A few smaller mobiles, such as No Private Point of View and To Do With as We Like (both 2009) were positioned on low concrete blocks, so that visitors needed to crouch over them if they wanted to be mesmerized by the reflection of their fragmented visages sliding in and out of view.

As some of the other works more effectively suggested, Eastman’s aim in this show was to offer a space for meditation. The Intention of the Device, 2009, a video made in the African art collection in the Yale University Art Gallery, contemplatively depicts the masks on display and Louis Kahn’s minimal architecture—reflected, once again, in one of her large free-floating mobiles. Yet an invitation to Zen-like rumination was conveyed most persuasively in another video, Hand Held Moon, 2009. This shaky, close-up observation of the full moon is projected against a black piece of stained wood leaning against the bottom of a wall, evoking the qualities of moonlight reflected on water. Although this work accentuated the romantic overtones of much of the exhibition, it also appeared much less restrained and less indebted to other art and, perhaps for that very reason, the most full of life.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler