New York

  View of Tim Hawkinson, 2016. From left: Koruru, 2009; Laocoon, 2004. Photo: Tom Barratt.

View of Tim Hawkinson, 2016. From left: Koruru, 2009; Laocoon, 2004. Photo: Tom Barratt.

Tim Hawkinson

Pace Gallery

  View of Tim Hawkinson, 2016. From left: Koruru, 2009; Laocoon, 2004. Photo: Tom Barratt.

Arguably the most talented bricoleur of his generation—resourceful and inventive, a maestro of the giddily improbable—Tim Hawkinson has produced a deeply peculiar, genially sprawling body of work across his more than three-decade-long career. Marked by a garage-tinkerer’s ingenuity and a wicked obsessive streak, his working methods and their off-kilter products suggest an artist constitutionally allergic to restraint. No gesture is seemingly too big (or too small), no material or form off-limits. His recent show at Pace—a mini-survey mounted to coincide with the debut of a third Chelsea outpost for the gallery while it moves toward consolidation in 2018 at a titanic new Twenty-Fifth Street space—gathered together work made since 1992. Alternately extravagant and self-effacingly low-key, its cast of material characters included a mumbling mop, a medicine cabinet full of chronometric health-and beauty-care products, an extension-cord bikini, and a bronze, big-toe doorstop. These and the other dozen works on view all in one way or another nodded toward Hawkinson’s signature fascinations—first and foremost his own body, but also time, repetition, reclamation, cause and effect, nature and machine, and formal integrities and disintegrities.

On one level, it was all predictably good fun, and yet, as is not infrequently the case with the artist’s work, there was finally something glancing about its overall effect. The flip side of his endlessly variable adroitness is a weirdly desultory flattening, a sense that every idea, from the throwaway silly to the genuinely profound, has been subjected to the same operations of his gee-whiz contraptionism. How does one showcase extraordinary technical facility in making things without making those things, and the ideas behind them, seem facile?

Though no doubt designed to combat the sense of creeping glibness—to make the making of the work itself produce meaning—Hawkinson’s decision here to include, as he often does, supplementary materials that foreground his objects’ densely nested practical and physical details actually worked to emphasize rather than assuage the pieces’ stand-alone limitations. Fine in small doses, after a while these discursive adjuncts describing precisely what the things are and just how they were created—here by way of explanatory texts integrated into the show’s checklist and on wall labels—can start to feel like getting buttonholed at the family reunion by a crazy uncle who wants to explain how he’s jury-rigged his lawn mower to barbecue chicken. For instance, the viewer learns that the contours of Tagalong, 2013, a bubble-blowing resin seahorse that hung above the gallery’s front desk, were created from molds “of the mostly smooth curved parts of [Hawkinson’s] body: his scalp, knuckles, fingerprints, and navel”; and that for Petrie, 1999, the artist used “a modified electric drill head” to produce the large pen-and-pencil drawing of looping shapes. Both are appealing enough objects, but as with Hose, 2013—a small accordion-like white cylinder, made with eggshells, that suggests the extendable tube of a swimming-pool vacuum—viewers are so clearly meant to wonder at the facture of the works that the enterprise begins to feel as though it’s fallen into the trap of relying on telling because showing alone won’t do.

In many ways, the show’s most persuasive work was also its most conventional. Hung from the ceiling by a rope and pulley, the shredded white form of Laocoon, 2004, beautifully evoked both a blown-out truck tire and the dynamic Hellenistic sculpture referenced in its title. A companion to his Magdalen of 2003—a similarly wrenched and flayed treaded form fashioned from black foam, paper, rubber, and wire, which nodded toward Donatello’s haggardly expressive wooden figure of the penitent follower of Jesus—Laocoon needed no additional expository assistance to amplify its native power or meaning. It was a marvel to be sure, but one that was fully able to answer on its own the question so many of the other works seemed to elide: not simply how it was made, but why.

Jeffrey Kastner