Scott Myles

Projects in Art & Theory

In this show, “Search and Research,” Scottish artist Scott Myles filled the center of the gallery with a triangular wooden sculpture that dominated the room. The severity and perfection of the form is unambiguously Minimalist, yet at the same time the construction has been painted using sweeping brushstrokes like those of a neo-expressionist picture from the 1980s. Isolated flecks of pink and yellow stand out among the blue-gray tones. So is this a Minimalist or a neo-expressionist work? Myles has conjoined two aesthetic codes that seem inherently incompatible to form a hybrid. And his title, Social Sculpture, 2009, with its nod to Joseph Beuys’s attempt at combining art with politics, adds yet another layer of contradiction to an already paradoxical work.

The triangular construction is also the replica of an object that was used during a performance staged by Myles in 2008, Reciprocity on Three Planes; in it, three actors used their bodies to copy the shape of the triangle. The idea of performance plays a foundational role in Myles’s artistic production; it is crucial for understanding his objects, installations, photographs, drawings, and prints. All his work bears the stamp of the gestural. For example, for Untitled (Newsagent Intervention with Flyer March 14 1999—March 14 2000), Myles stole magazines from newsstands, read them on a train, and then, after tucking a black-and-white leaflet between their pages, placed them back on the rack at a different kiosk. This action was a small but potent intervention, an investigation into the status and survival of the work of art amid the flow of information. He later addressed the same topic in a different action, for which he collected posters by artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres, wrote phrases on their backs (which then became their titles, such as Come Together, 2003, or Performance Here Today, 2005), and framed them, exhibiting them, for instance at Kunsthalle Zurich in 2005. He consciously entered into the conflict represented by these posters, turning what had been multiples into unique objects framed and on display, their status as works of institutional critique undermined by Myles’s reframing.

Myles also showed five black-and-silver screenprints from his 2009 series “Meaning of Return.” In these prints, too, we see images and codes collide that would not ordinarily be brought together. And this is precisely what is so exciting about the artist’s work: Myles takes an office chair, removes the seat, and “rectifies” the loss using three Plexiglas triangles that form a pyramid. He then photographs the strange shape that results, presenting it as a black-and-white screenprint. One thinks again of Beuys, the seat of whose Fettstuhl (Fat Chair), 1964, was occupied by a triangular block of fat. Myles has preprogrammed both the distancing, alienating effect of the images, via a technical printing process, and the flood of associations that follow: thoughts on art and society, social sculpture and communication—themes that occupied Beuys all his life. If the ancient Greeks believed that paradoxes could be instructive, leading to new and different insights, Myles seems to take up their legacy. Yet his works never appear didactic, for despite their gravity and the multifaceted themes they evoke, they also display a liberating and unpredictable sense of humor.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.