Hadley + Maxwell

Jessica Bradley Art + Projects

The gallery’s windows were covered with paper. But this was an artwork, not a signal that installation was in progress. Consisting of long, loosely applied strips of wallpaper—each with a distinct pattern of stripes, tree branches, or flowers—Returns Blind, 2010, may be read either as wrapping for retail items or as a signifier of the gallery worker’s labor. Like much of Hadley + Maxwell’s collaborative practice, this clever, Conceptualist gesture playfully resists being packaged as a discrete and marketable commodity.

For The Jury, Like the Chorus, Draws Its Voice from the Thickness of the Air, 2009, the artists have manipulated a Louis IX–style commode, replacing one of the intricately carved drawers with an elongated, IKEA-like platform. On top of this white, starkly modern surface rest a dozen old radios, each tuned to a different station. The abruptly absurd humor of this sculpture, with its whimsical rows of protruding antennae, is tempered by the work’s well-orchestrated details, such as the sinuous curves of extension cords. Carefully threaded through a hole, the wires exit the commode as one electrical snake—suggesting a singular voice winding its way along the floor to an outlet. The musicians and multilingual talk-show hosts, together creating a cacophony, have been converted into unwitting collaborators within this Hadley + Maxwell production.

The theme of labor is explicit in Antique Chinoiserie Mantel for London Media Room, 2006–10. The sculpture includes a photograph of an ornate mantelpiece resting upside down on a simple folding table, presumably for restoration. While offering the viewer aesthetic appreciation of the graceful object, the photo also forces consideration of the often-obscured relationship between the labor of preservation and the manifest properties of an antique or artwork’s public or private display. The photograph’s precarious placement on a pine shelf behind a freestanding pane of glass—a makeshift display that suggests the photo is waiting to be framed—echoes this in-process predicament. The photograph Verre Eglomisé Panels for Atlanta Hotel, 2010, also depicts objects being prepared for public installation. Four mirrored panels adorned with flowers and vegetal designs—decorative motifs present in many other works in the show—rest on the floor and lean against a wall in what appears to be a restorer’s studio. As in the work of Louise Lawler, whose photographs of iconic works of art being prepared for transport or for installation in museums emphasize that an image’s meaning is a matter of the environment in which it is displayed, these two images depict antiques in contexts that invite a questioning of the ways in which objects obtain aesthetic value. The photographs direct the audience’s attention away from the original craftsperson and toward those laborers—the installers and restorers—also involved in “producing” a chinoiserie mantel or verre eglomisé panel.

Self-reflexivity recurs in the installation Baroque Baroque (for Lady Milford), 2009, in which a time-lapse video of sunlight moving across a room is projected on the gallery wall. A mirror hangs in the center of the projection, reflecting a silhouetted, stationary image of the video camera itself onto the opposite wall—perhaps a gesture of homage to still photographic works by Michael Snow, such as Authorization, 1969, that focus on relationships between cameras and “real” reflective surfaces as the means to play with assumptions about photographic illusion and experience. One turns back to consider the sheer gorgeousness of Hadley + Maxwell’s recorded account of drifting and glowing illumination, an elegant image that is all the more poignant when one speculates about the laborious preparations that made it possible.

Dan Adler