New York

Nick Relph, The Weather, 2013, car wheels, 99 x 57 1/2 x 24".

Nick Relph, The Weather, 2013, car wheels, 99 x 57 1/2 x 24".

Nick Relph

Gavin Brown's enterprise | 620 Greenwich Street

Nick Relph, The Weather, 2013, car wheels, 99 x 57 1/2 x 24".

In Nick Relph’s recent exhibition, two rhyming rooms recalled a garage, while a pair of framed portraits—showing dealer Gavin Brown by parked cars—hinted at one of the building’s past functions. In the first gallery, twelve upright car wheels stood in two orderly rows, placed in the positions they would occupy on actual automobiles: three vehicles sans bodies. Another set of eight wheels had been sited in the neighboring open office area, with two of them put conspicuously beneath desks. Passing through these demarcated spaces—between and within the groupings—I sensed a subtle reorientation, a slight but palpable tension between interiority and exteriority, of being either inside or out. The cunning subtlety of the work brought to mind a range of seminal gestures by the late Michael Asher––his reconfiguration of walls, redirection of volumes of air, and exposure of infrastructure. But it wasn’t quite institutional critique. Instead, what emerged, profoundly, were questions about what it means to have beginnings and ends—obvious starting and finishing points—as well as a meditation on the psychic (and perhaps emotional) investment we place in such seemingly arbitrary demarcations. These deceptively simple pieces, collectively titled The Weather (all works 2013), established the poetic tenor of the entire exhibition.

In a vast third space, a handful of works were hung on a wall covered in a swath of white, red-striped mesh. One of these, Super Gershwin, was made on a loom, and features a vertically oriented rectangle of white silk with two parallel bands of delicately plaited copper thread, while a larger, yet-to-be-titled work on cotton incorporates a sketch of a piano in ink and acrylic. Although the viewer takes the compositions in all at once, the pieces nevertheless possess a beginning and end. In order to weave, after all, one needs to start with a thread, and then interlace it with another—and another and another—until a pattern emerges. The process is one with a necessarily linear path. Relph’s quietly beautiful weavings consequently raised similar questions to those posed by his careful arrangements of wheels: When and where to start? And to stop? Also, why attribute any meaning at all to these “points”?

Another piece in the same gallery was not as immediately discernible as such. Titled Mirror Muscles, it consists of a row of four chrome stanchions, with a band woven from silk and soy threads stretched between them. Dividing the room, it playfully obstructed the free flow of foot traffic through the space––an instance of physical demarcation. During the opening reception, I noticed some people ducking under the belt, unaware of its function, though perhaps that was when the work was “working” the most. Again, I thought of Asher—an artist who changed, or rather challenged, the given parameters of a space.

Nearby, an enlarged black-and-white picture of the full moon was printed directly on a freestanding wall. (A digital watermark beneath the image suggested that it had been captured via Google Books.) Opposite this, a grid of four more images of the moon was printed on a column, which was also freestanding. Among these five moons and the scattered wheels, affective affinities appeared—for example, I remembered cars disconcertingly floating on streets under an actual full moon in NYC, last year in late October when Hurricane Sandy hit. We all know that lunar phases and, indeed, the weather itself are cyclical, but Relph’s point was something different: A “new” moon is just another way of saying, “Let us start again.”

Lauren O’Neill-Butler