Gabriel Lester, Robertas Narkus, Lisa Rosenblatt, and Freek Wambacq, Bermuda, 2016, mixed media. Installation view.

Gabriel Lester, Robertas Narkus, Lisa Rosenblatt, and Freek Wambacq, Bermuda, 2016, mixed media. Installation view.

Gabriel Lester

Gabriel Lester, Robertas Narkus, Lisa Rosenblatt, and Freek Wambacq, Bermuda, 2016, mixed media. Installation view.

To classify Gabriel Lester’s “Unresolved Extravaganza” (also known as “Unhappen,” “Apple Z,” “Præmonitions,” “The Nine Day Week,” and “Seven Hills Secrets”) as a solo show would not be correct, but it is exactly this fallacy that reveals his distinctive métier. For this overview of Lester’s collaborative works of the past twenty years, the artist steadfastly continues to do what he’s always done—namely, work with others. The exhibition was curated and produced by the artist himself—Lester had been invited to do the show by de Appel’s director, Lorenzo Benedetti, but when Benedetti was controversially dismissed last year, Lester decided to proceed on his own—and includes the contributions of more than twenty artists, musicians, programmers, architects, writers, and friends. Distanza e mezogna (Distance and Perspective), 2007, with Mariana Castillo Deball, and Amorales vs. Amorales, 1996, with Carlos Amorales, are apt examples of this collaborative spirit. The first is a set of four porcelain door knockers hanging on the wall while resting against rounded mirrors, a lesson in material and functional suspense. The latter is a video showing Lester and writer/filmmaker Diego Gutierrez wearing masks that cast both of them as Amorales. In taking on this identity at the request of Amorales, Lester crossed over from commercial film work to artistic practice, and the interchanging of diverse identities is a theme to which he regularly returns.

Lester’s collective impulse is displayed most patently in the new installation The French Horn, 2016. It’s a kind of summa of the exhibition: a small back room filled with a collage of images and different marks composed by others and Lester himself. It reads like a map of invisible associations and hidden implications. Like the instrument named in the work’s title, the space feels like an intricate construct capable of the most beautiful notes as well as the most discordant sounds. Its location just behind the wall that hosts the video Murmur, 2015, reveals another strength of Lester’s practice: his aptitude for scenography. In this work, classical musicians play a piece of music through complicated openings in a white wall much like the one the video is projected on, evoking a claustrophobic and contentious backstage social world.

The exhibition only gradually discloses its many layers and implications, giving the visitor a certain self-consciousness about his or her own movements and actions. Where the stage begins or ends is never really clear. This ambiguity finds its culmination in another new work, Bermuda, 2016, an all-encompassing installation consisting of a cabinet of compartments filling an entire wall of a large, darkened space. A disembodied voice tells a stirring and at times disorienting tale of disappearance, transformation, and encounter among a group of castaways on a small island. Inside each partition is an object that is lit up as if by magic to illustrate details of the story.

Lester’s hand seems to have touched every aspect of this exhibition, seen or unseen, but less in the manner of an artist or even a curator than of a movie director. This “Unresolved Extravaganza” is a total production that could only have been realized by a team of collaborators under a strong leader. It demonstrates the scope of Lester’s ambitions, but also his cunning and finesse in constructing an alternative world riddled with equivocal clues and uncertain identities.

Huib Haye van der Werf