New York

Simon Dybbroe Møller

Harris Lieberman

In the middle of the gallery, a young man sat casually at a grand piano stacked with old books, holding one and reading from it, silently. As he did this, he used his free hand to pick out individual notes on the keyboard. The gentle sounds resonated in the near-empty room but their sequence fell short of melody—rather, it was slow and disjointed, hesitant, yet not unpleasant despite seeming arbitrary. The man’s black suit jacket hung on a peg nearby, and a small, framed black-and-white photograph of his wire-rimmed glasses leaned against the window. There was no indication of how long he had been engaged in his introspective pursuit, nor of how the tomes that surrounded him might be linked with one another or with the mise-en-scéne.

In fact, the notes played by the performer of Danish artist Simon Dybbroe Møller’s Melody Malady (all works 2010) correspond to letters in the pianist’s reading matter, a structural conceit that Triple Canopy deputy editor (and Artforum copy editor) Sam Frank also makes some use of in an accompanying text, a hodgepodge of quotations, many about capitalism, each accompanied by a musical note. Dybbroe Møler’s exhibition—his US solo debut—was titled “The Demon of Noontide,” and this work’s meeting of intellectual curiosity and abstracted, distracted game playing made for a neat evocation of cultured ennui. (The exhibition title was explained in the press release with the addendum, “—Which attacks the monk in the stillness of the midday hour and empties the world of any meaning.”) Throughout the show, the artist sought to trace a connection between circuitous thought and the collapse of “progress” into stasis. So while emphasizing action and process, he also underlined the seeming impossibility of forward motion. “The Demon of Noontide” thus described an exquisite holding pattern, aimed not at advancement beyond the present moment but rather at its ever-closer examination.

Lining the walls around Melody Malady were several panels onto which Dybbroe Møller had affixed grids of page-size ink-jet prints. Depicting photographs of canvas—at close enough range for the details of the fabric to be quite clear—the consistency of many of the images’ surfaces is interrupted by the action of the wallpaper paste used to adhere them. As the diluted glue seeps through the paper—mostly where the prints abut one another—the ink colors fade and pallid brushstrokes take their place. The results evoke Andy Warhol’s “Oxidation” paintings in their use of a semiautomatic technique to create an abstract pattern that “develops” gradually, finally suggesting that perhaps (to paraphrase Warhol) any picture you make is a good picture, especially when it also loops back on itself.

In the gallery’s back room was a triptych of videos, elaborately titled The standard blue, the classic grey, the basic black (he who dreams of scaffolds while puffing at his hookah). Each segment follows an unnamed man as he goes about three different but equally banal kinds of business: working in an office, driving a car, and taking down a shirt from a dry-cleaning carousel. In each short sequence, sound is generated not by the actions and objects depicted but by a string quartet that strives to imitate them. So when the office worker sends a fax, the whine of the machine is simulated by the scrape of a bow on a violin, and when the driver flicks on his indicators, the instrumentalists use pizzicato and other techniques to produce an appropriate ticktock effect.

In combining visual restraint (we never see the protagonist’s face, and observe his unremarkable comings and goings mostly in neatly composed close-ups) with an aural veracity arrived at by oddly traditional means, Dybbroe Møller here sidesteps the danger of gimmickry. Instead, he achieves—here as in the show’s paintings and performance—a meditation on boredom that draws out the strange seductions of that peculiarly modern mood.

Michael Wilson