Micah Lexier

Micah Lexier’s recent exhibition, “→ (the title is an arrow),” started from the most minimal means—an arrow—and explored the semiotics of marks, symbols, and words. The majority of Lexier’s directional signs are derived from a single scrawl, which was digitally enlarged—hence emphasizing its handmade irregularities—and serially fabricated from stamped and painted water-jet-cut aluminum. The impressive 12-Foot White Arrow (all works 2009), installed on the gallery’s facade, pointed at the entryway with an exaggerated denotative emphasis that would ensure distant recognition, perhaps by satellites, or by God.

This playful provocation continued inside, where an array of smaller arrows toyed pleasingly with a relationship to words. Identically sized and hanging on the wall, most arrows were differentiated only by color and their self-descriptive titles—This Is the First Arrow You See When You Walk In, for example, or This Is An Arrow Pointing to a Blemish—which Lexier has stamped in block letters onto the stem of each. Beginning with a demonstrative pronoun, this, the titles—like the arrows themselves—serve to indicate or point: As an arrow points to an object in space, this points to a noun in a sentence. And the deadpan, observational titles seem to riff on Ceci n’est pas une pipe Magritte’s famous 1926 study of the slippery relationship between image and word.

One work, composed of four arrows hanging in a row, was titled This Is an Arrow Two Feet Long, This Is an Arrow Cut Out of Aluminum, This Is an Arrow Painted Dark Brown, This Is an Arrow One Quarter of an Inch Thick. Here, each individual phrase, inscribed on a different mass-produced and identical arrow, might refer to at least one of three things: the arrow on which the phrase itself is inscribed; the adjacent arrow, which is being pointed to; or all of these arrows at once—their abstract, general type. Confirming the accuracy of the inscriptions, audiences enact a graphic designer’s empirical verification and evaluation of such properties—color, size, and materials—before releasing them into the media marketplace.

The minute attention paid by designers to the isolated features of products and packaging is one of the artist’s long-standing preoccupations, especially in his many artists’ books. Here, Lexier’s interest in consumer culture was evident in the show’s installation. Arrows were arranged in boxes on shelves, recalling Andy Warhol’s 1962 Ferus Gallery exhibition, in which rows of Campbell’s Soup Can paintings suggested grocery-store shelves. Lexier’s This Is an Arrow Displayed in Its Packaging features just another inscribed arrow residing in an open, specially printed cardboard box. As with a consumer good, the meaning and significance of this arrow is tied to its packaging. The adjacent work, This Is an Arrow Whose Colour Is Secret, consisted of a closed container. By leaving the arrow itself unseen, the piece inspires whimsical speculation about where the value of the work may lie: the packaging design, the shelf, or the conceptual conceit.

Lexier’s collaborative ventures include the bright-blue-hued This Is an Arrow Whose Colour Was Chosen by My 5-Year-Old Downstairs Neighbour Olivier, an arrow pointing to a drawing by Ken Nichol, and a host of off-site arrows, including those installed in the office areas of several other Toronto commercial galleries for the duration of the show. The importance of Lexier’s practice rests in part with such clever strategies, which disperse and complicate conventional notions of artistic meaning associated with individual authorship and conventional high-art display.

Dan Adler