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Mark Luyten, Untitled (“Endlessly”), 1989/ 2011, oil on canvas, 75 1/2 x 96 7/8".

Mark Luyten, Untitled (“Endlessly”), 1989/ 2011, oil on canvas, 75 1/2 x 96 7/8".

Mark Luyten

Galerie Micheline Szwajcer

Mark Luyten, Untitled (“Endlessly”), 1989/ 2011, oil on canvas, 75 1/2 x 96 7/8".

Two sorts of temporalities were superimposed in Mark Luyten’s exhibition, representing two distinct conceptions of its title, “(today).” One could be found in a work visible right from the entrance and running through the gallery space: Today, 2011, consisting of words written in pencil, ink, and watercolor and scattered across the surface of the wall that runs from one end of the gallery to the other. They fluttered over the wall’s surface, seemingly capable of escaping its materiality at any moment. If those at a distance disappeared in the vastness of the white cube, those that were closer seemed just as ephemeral—adjectives such as HEADLESS, CHOICELESS, PASTLESS, and so on, conjuring absence, including that of the nouns they might modify. So these delicate written or painted words were floating, both visually and semantically. This volatile work gives “today” a literal interpretation: It refers to nothing tangible and exists only in its context, for the time that it is uttered. Here, enchanted, we find Mallarmé’s “virgin, vital, and beautiful today.”

But Today proved very different from works on view across from it. There, another investigation of time came to light, more anxious and more critical, in which the idea of “present time” is linked more narrowly to a self-referential question concerning the currency of artistic production. The problem could be posited this way: What novelty can there be in an artistic approach that strives to be enduring? Two paintings, Untitled (“Recent Work”), 2011, and Untitled (“Endlessly”), 1989/2011, seem to respond ironically to this question. In the first, the words RECENT WORK, painted in black against a white background, are partially covered by the same letters, this time bigger and in color, as if in a desperate attempt to tart up an unsatisfactory outcome. The second painting displays a single word at its center, ENDLESSLY, which appears against a colored grid that has been haphazardly covered over with a layer of white paint. By retaining only the parts of this abstract composition that allow him to compose the letters forming the word ENDLESSLY, the artist again points to a game of recycling—which is confirmed by the double dating of the work. And the whiting-out provokes a lingering doubt: While it seems to mark the refusal of perpetual newness, isn’t newness the product of a revision of the painting? Here the novelty of the work is seen to be linked to the basic pictorial process of covering over—while other pieces, such as the two versions of Untitled (Hotel Furkablick, Ch, July 8, 1990), 1990/2011, bring into play the opposite process, that of excision: Two old photographs of a hotel window overlooking a mountainous landscape are perforated and slashed in the manner of Fontana. In any case, what Luyten seems to be contesting is the supposition that an artist’s work of “today” would be an additional gesture applied to old work. In short, this is a subtle critique of the idea of “creative destruction” by an artist who firmly and brilliantly maintains the exigencies of that deconstruction of representation—even as he makes a virtue of the fact that we associate such a maneuver more with the art of the 1970s than that of today.

Olivier Mignon

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.