Prem Sahib, Night Flies, 2013, crash mat, spray-painted wood, pint glass with water, 33 7/8 x 74 3/4 x 51 1/8".

Prem Sahib, Night Flies, 2013, crash mat, spray-painted wood, pint glass with water, 33 7/8 x 74 3/4 x 51 1/8".

Prem Sahib

Southard Reid

Prem Sahib, Night Flies, 2013, crash mat, spray-painted wood, pint glass with water, 33 7/8 x 74 3/4 x 51 1/8".

The prelude to Prem Sahib’s recent exhibition “Night Flies” was “Bump,” a kind of buzzing pop-up club that opened one summer evening and remained until the wee hours. Having used the Southard Reid gallery, normally closed in August, as a studio that month, he then transformed the space into a private club for a single night. He created a blue-lit chill-out room on the ground floor, and wall-to-wall tan carpet covered the upstairs room, which was also fitted out with a large revolving mirror ball; the rear office became a crowded bar.

However, rather than taking the raging party, or even the inevitable post-party chaos, as its subject, the exhibition itself projected a certain detachment, even ennui. In Sahib’s vision, it was intended as a “hangover.” At the entrance stood a skinny, John McCracken–like rectangular column covered with black square bathroom tiles, Crew Cut (all works 2013), while on the now-worn and dingy carpet a flat black mattress (or rather a crash mat) lay languorously against a freestanding panel, atop which sat a half-filled pint glass of water; this was Night Flies. The latter work perhaps most effectively suggested Sahib’s idea of the day after, while the former, offering none of the sublimity of a McCracken, projects a certain antiseptic detachment. The disconcerting experience of finding the gallery staff propped on bar stools around the counter that Sahib had fabricated completed the sense of dislocation.

Forty-six years ago in this magazine, Michael Fried associated Minimalist art with the notion of theater in his now-canonical text “Art and Objecthood.” It was Minimalism’s reference to the human body and other external points, rather than the interiorized self-reference of modernist painting, that Fried opposed: “The presence of literalist art,” he wrote, “is basically a theatrical effect or quality—a kind of stage presence.” Given his use of everyday materials and objects such as tiles, puffer jackets, frosted glass, disco balls, dead neon, footballs, and fake diamonds—glitzy items subsumed into a reductivist aesthetic—it seems appropriate that Sahib has described his work as evidencing “a sexed-up minimal aesthetic.” Says Sahib,“I like the implication of an object discreetly suggesting other narratives that might exist outside of its sheer objectness.” The work’s two most evident but seemingly incompatible aspects, reductive objecthood and post-performative allusiveness, somehow come to seem mutually implicated.

Reflective of the work of Marc Camille Chaimowicz or Cerith Wyn Evans, the functionality of Sahib’s materials elicits a narrative or allegorical effect. For example, tiles create a surface often associated with cleanliness, which adds to the rigid reductiveness of his columns a notion of hygiene associated with toilets and kitchens. In Night Flies, the mat leaning against the wooden panel brings to mind a reclining human form through both its function as a mat and the way it leans; the half-empty glass suggests the post-alcohol or post-Ecstasy need for hydration, as well as the old adage about optimism versus pessimism. In the end, though, what we are confronted with is matter rather than its effects; with a suggestive wink of the eye, Sahib’s art draws us in. For him, and thus for us, night flies.

Sherman Sam