View of “Michael Dean,” 2015. Photo: Nick Ash.

View of “Michael Dean,” 2015. Photo: Nick Ash.

Michael Dean

Supportico Lopez

View of “Michael Dean,” 2015. Photo: Nick Ash.

Viewers entering Michael Dean’s exhibition “Look at them fucking laughing” found themselves among a field of standing sculptures taller than they are wide or deep. The variously colored concrete forms were grouped a bit like Stonehenge monoliths—seventeen pillars, each with its lower part bent forward to keep it upright. Some are earthy pinks or browns or gray. Two others (both titled analogue x, 2015) aren’t solid forms at all, but rather bent metal rods with a thickness of sky-blue concrete surrounding them. They both lean precipitously to one side. Off in a corner, six slightly taller, faceted slabs, made between 2010 and 2013, rested somewhat haphazardly against the walls and one another. Their distinctive geometry––an undulating pattern of tall, triangular planes moving across them widthwise––might be something like a signature for Dean; he’s shown works with that abstract motif several times since 2009. The floor near the freestanding sculptures was strewn with bits of concrete and paper––like detritus, as if the arrangement were informal, somehow still in flux.

The standing sculptures are oddly humanoid. Most have a flat side that might be the work’s back, and many of these backs faced the gallery entrance. Those facing other directions gave the arrangement the sense of a scene, as if in moving between the sculptures, you interrupted their individual interrelations. The experience of moving among them was unnerving, which had something to do with the fact that you really were in danger of bumping up against one or another of the sculptures and knocking it over—the spaces between them were narrow, and their proportions made them vulnerable––or stepping on the things scattered on the floor.

Farther away from the gallery entrance, the sculptures petered out. There was more space between them, and there were fewer smaller works on the floor. Two prints, xxxx . . . x and xxxxxx . . . x, both 2015, hung on the walls—the former in the bottom-left corner of the rear wall, and the latter relatively high up on the long wall opposite the gallery entrance. Each consists of white paper patterned over with an uneven field of black X’s, rows that start out along a horizontal near the top of the page and bow exaggeratedly down toward the bottom-left corner. The rows of X’s were a printed reproduction of a drawing done by hand, vigorously but rather carelessly, lending a roundabout finesse to the otherwise unspecific forms. X’s were also visible on the pages from one of Dean’s books that are adhered to each corner of both sheets.

It’s unclear what the exhibition title had to do with the works on view, and the sheets of paper stacked in place of press releases near the entrance offered no more explanation: They were printed with an uneven field of black X’s. No matter. Dean was apparently trying to create a formal vocabulary that would stand for itself, rather than act as a mode of representation. In other words, he didn’t leave identifiable figures and things––or language––to delineate the content. The work really did stand for itself. Formally, it was rich and highly nuanced. What’s more, it was virtuosically installed in the gallery. It may have dealt in information that was nonliteral, even elusive, but it was neither unduly self-possessed nor insubstantial.

John Beeson