New York

Ignacio Uriarte, Blue Wrist Suite (detail), 2012, one of four ballpoint-ink drawings on paper, each 27 1/2 x 19 5/8".

Ignacio Uriarte, Blue Wrist Suite (detail), 2012, one of four ballpoint-ink drawings on paper, each 27 1/2 x 19 5/8".

Ignacio Uriarte

Ignacio Uriarte, Blue Wrist Suite (detail), 2012, one of four ballpoint-ink drawings on paper, each 27 1/2 x 19 5/8".

Ignacio Uriarte never got the memo explaining that artists often keep two résumés: one listing the exhibitions, degrees, reviews, and awards that comprise an artist’s career, and a second cataloging the stints—as bartender, computer programmer, proofreader, paralegal—that contribute to an artist’s livelihood. Pushing against this unwritten convention, Uriarte prefaces his CV with an overview of his past positions at such corporations as the German electronics conglomerate Siemens, and he underscores his administrative background by rooting his art in materials ubiquitous to cubicles. His exhibition “Line of Work,” organized by Joanna Kleinberg Romanow, included a series of felt-tip-marker drawings composed of ruler-straight lines, a slide show of pens wittily arranged into Roman numerals (from one through forty), and an audio recording of vocalist Blixa Bargeld percussively reciting letters in concert with an old-fashioned typewriter.

At a talk sponsored by the Goethe-Institut New York, Uriarte justified his fidelity to office supplies by likening himself to the late Richard Artschwager, whose sculpture reflected his day job constructing cabinets and furniture. The comparison is apt, and opens onto the question of how to situate Uriarte’s practice historically. In the early 1960s, Artschwager’s ersatz furniture was simultaneously a synthesis and a send-up of Minimalism’s formalist pretensions and Pop’s vernacular slumming. In an important essay from 1989, Benjamin Buchloh argued that Pop and Minimalism were the last movements to retain some vestige of art’s autonomy—its tenuous claim to a separate sphere of experience—before Conceptual art blithely, even triumphantly, inscribed itself within Adorno’s “totally administered world.” Plotted on graph paper, Xeroxed, or stored in three-ring binders, this so-called aesthetics of administration exuded the sensibility of midlevel managers who filed their reports and kept their heads down. In this Frankfurt School scheme, Artschwager’s workshop still affords the freedoms associated with the traditional artist’s studio, however diminished, while Uriarte’s office furnishes little other than an ergonomic seat of mute complicity.

The question, then, is, What has changed? It’s been nearly a half century since Conceptual art’s heyday, and Buchloh’s late-’80s vantage point doesn’t register the shifts in business usually shorthanded as affective labor or the new spirit of capitalism: the team-building exercises, the faux friendships, the foosball. The competent, squarely anonymous IBM man is no longer anyone’s model employee, and the Robbe-Grillet-inspired impersonality of Conceptual art is no longer so assiduously enforced. Uriarte’s drawings, for instance, mimic the permutational rigor of Sol LeWitt’s wall pieces, but at a diminutive scale, typically that of A4 paper. Whereas LeWitt could deploy pencil work only by establishing a system of instruction and delegation that removed him from the final result, Uriarte underscores the presence of his hand: The orderly and undulating Bic-blue arcs of Blue Wrist Suite, 2012, correspond to the curving swing of Uriarte’s own wrist. Or, in Strong Upper and Downer, 2012, Uriarte coaxes fluid, expansive lines of black and red from a typewriter—an unwieldy drawing tool and, it should be noted, an appliance more prevalent in the ’60s than today. Now that corporations exhort employees to be creative, it seems that Uriarte can appropriate the administrative procedures and office paraphernalia of Conceptual art for a traditional studio aesthetic.

However, a funny thing happens on the way to the studio. The intimate handwork in Blue Wrist Suite starts to appear less natural than mechanical, the incidental disparities in pressure no more pronounced or expressive than the typewriter’s fades and smudges in Strong Upper and Downer. The supposed freedom of an artist’s career shadows the presumed monotony of a livelihood. Uriarte’s drawings are beautiful, but their underlying message isn’t necessarily pretty. By all means, they tell us, quit your day job, but don’t think you can leave it behind.

Colby Chamberlain