New York


“Blind Sculpture,” Gelitin’s first solo exhibition at Greene Naftali Gallery, began as a diurnal “happening”: Over the course of eight days, the collective’s four artists—along with two full-time helpers and between four and nine “friends,” who functioned variously as interlocutors, assistants, and window dressing—gathered in the center of a makeshift amphitheater cordoned off by wooden bleachers surrounding the central gallery space and constructed a sprawling sculpture. The artists who compose Gelitin were blindfolded for the duration of its creation, becoming the mad, groping masters of an unruly in situ atelier.

The construction took place slowly, through accrual, largely using items supplied by the nonprofit organization Materials for the Arts. The artists made prominent use of chicken wire, papier-mâché, and stuffed animals (usually dismembered and splattered, à la Mike Kelley). Paint and paint cans and paintbrushes were interspersed throughout. Lots of bric-a-brac was thrown in: beer bottles, Styrofoam, plastic wreaths, and, in waggish self-referentiality, Jell-O boxes. Plastered around the room, on columns and on the work in progress itself, were printouts depicting Roman Polanski, stamped with the slogan
WHERE IS MY POLANSKI? Scrawled in the margins, in retort: IN JAIL 'CAUSE HE'S A CHILD RAPIST. Above one such poster, a sticker read GELATIN [sic] SUCKS!!!.

The happenings were full of piquant images that transcended the “stuff” being made on the main floor: the strident glissandi of (an often naked) Schuyler Maehl, who each day played piano accompaniment; a gaggle of trussed-up gate-crashers who improvised a slipshod burlesque audition on one of the bleachers; a couple of children, with a toddler in tow, who used scissors and power drills to bore holes into a large slab of foamcore board just outside the main arena.

By making the work collaborative (the show’s subtitle was “with a little help of their friends”), Gelitin complicated the authorship of the construction. Doing it “blind” meant a certain degree of letting go. In that oddly spectacularized maneuver, Gelitin also paradoxically deprivileged the visual aspects of the sculpture itself. Given that the look of it was supposed to be so beside the point, it seems strangely disingenuous to describe the structure itself. And yet, despite the roadblocks, it still looked like a work by Gelitin. There were jolie laide “moon landers” and a blush-colored phallus atop a scrappy base; some of it was like a Rachel Harrison falling apart. To some extent, that is to say, it was “expressive”—though not in the sense of a subjective interiority transposed onto a medium. Rather, it spoke to the group’s propagation of a nutty, lubricious atmosphere that, to a certain extent, did the work for them: This piece wasn’t made in a vacuum; it was made in Gelitin-space. And in this way the “refusal” of control actually became an administrative tactic: Their medium was the environment, with its cultivated vibe of jouissance.

The performance ended and the work was “done” at 7 pm on Saturday, February 6—approximately halfway through the exhibition. Thus, while the piece grew according to its own touchyfeely logic, its completion was decided according to an arbitrary marker. Indeed, this—more than the blindness or the element of collaboration—was Gelitin’s most radical gesture. The test, the work’s self-generated formal criterion, was its relative integrity—whether the structure would stay standing.

But one further step remained after the end of the project’s eightday gestation. Once Gelitin had removed their blindfolds and looked at the resultant mess, they decided to carve eight discrete, portable sculptures from the nodes of material erupting from the arena’s floor. Addition gave way to subtraction, and thus the work was properly given “form,” as well as resale value: Performative architecture was cut into art objects. The sculptures, once isolated in a conventional gallery space, looked—rather awkwardly—as if they belonged there.

David Velasco