New York

Adam Putnam, Untitled (The Drop IV), 2014, C-print, 40 × 30". From the series “The Drop,” 2014.

Adam Putnam, Untitled (The Drop IV), 2014, C-print, 40 × 30". From the series “The Drop,” 2014.

Adam Putnam

Adam Putnam, Untitled (The Drop IV), 2014, C-print, 40 × 30". From the series “The Drop,” 2014.

Exhibitions by Adam Putnam test the boundaries between architecture and bodies—specifically his own. The New York–based and –born artist explores this theme in a number of ways, most notably through a particularly uneasy brand of performance: Once every week during his last New York show, in 2009, he hung, for five minutes, from an approximately eighteen-foot-long chain. This show, the artist’s first at this gallery, emphasized his sculptures, photographs, and works on paper, presenting exquisitely rendered drawings of Romanesque arches and steeples in charcoal and pigment; sculptures composed of pieces of wood knotted together with rope or bungee cords into makeshift architecture; and large black-and-white photographs, many of which focus on the kinds of private acts that occur within a specific kind of room—the studio. (He also delivered a performance, which involved elongating his body with stilts, after this issue went to press.)

Among the last of these three bodies of work was a selection of photos from the 2014 series “The Drop,” in which images of a fraught figure make the act of embodiment into a precarious negotiation with one’s physical environment. In Untitled (The Drop IV), a vaguely human shadow appears on a wall amid the trappings of a studio practice: rope, pipes, and lumber. In Untitled (The Drop I), the artist pictures himself nude and limply bending over at the waist, his hands and feet bound. In these pieces, the human body is vulnerable, appearing, alternately, as an object or a phantom. Similarly, a chilling image from the “Interior Shadow” series, 2013, portrays a figure in a the same white-walled space with his head and face unnervingly masked by cloth.

Accompanying the photographs and drawings were four sculptures made with trussed-together pieces of wood. Emblematic is Chrysalis II, 2014, a skeletal, tepee-like structure, which brought a vertical orientation to the show and included an element—a steel ring dangling from its center—that echoed Putnam’s aforementioned performance. That hoop taunted the viewer to tug on it, and, in so doing, pull this rudimentary, seemingly failed, or failing architecture apart—to unshackle it.

The heart of the exhibition was a video: Reclaimed Empire (Deep Edit), 2008–14. Screened in a black-walled gallery, the nearly thirty-minute piece comprises more than sixty short vignettes that simultaneously nod to and complicate Warhol’s famously long take. They consist of two distinct kinds of footage: color-saturated views of city- or landscapes and shots of the artist’s studio, in which mock monuments, arches, and shadows, as well as images that evoke stage sets and séances, appear alive and animate. There is the uncanny ambience of the paranormal, the return of the (studio) repressed. Set against a sound track of bells or chimes, blips or beats, many of these grainy videos were captured via Porta-Pak, and this fact, in addition to the centrality of the artist’s body, brought to mind earlier forebears—Bruce Nauman, chiefly, whose works have identified the studio as something of a prison house of boredom, where one sits alone in (or with) a room and in the company of a few machines (maybe some mice and a cat, too) for a long while, this activity eventually yielding works that emphasize the space as a site for quasi-supernatural conjurings of inexplicable occurrences produced by an artist-shaman. This is an “everything counts” strategy, one underpinned by passion, urgency, and a radical transparency. It’s also an approach that encourages risk—something that feels more and more rare in today’s milieu. Too much withholding can be orthodox, stifling. No more of that.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler