John Armleder, Total, 2017, mirror, lacquered wood, 92 x 75 x 24".

John Armleder, Total, 2017, mirror, lacquered wood, 92 x 75 x 24".

John Armleder

Massimo De Carlo | Milan/Belgioioso

John Armleder, Total, 2017, mirror, lacquered wood, 92 x 75 x 24".

Since he first emerged on the art scene in the late 1960s, John Armleder has sought to transcend categorization or definitive placement within genres, styles, or movements. His current show, “Better, Quasi,” is a sort of macro-installation, both unified and multiple, consistent and multifaceted, playing with the relational mechanisms between walls, surfaces, objects, and reflected images. The exhibition’s title seems to conjoin two fundamental factors in Armleder’s deliberately and knowingly eclectic poetics. On the one hand, better expresses a dynamic and progressive aim at improvement and is reflected in images that always hover at the edge of a constant relaunch of the creative proposition. On the other hand, quasi implies approximation, the “good enough.”

The works on display coalesce different materials and typologies: from painting to sculpture, and from a creative reassessment of the design object to spatial installation. Elements on the wall are combined with the artist’s typical “furniture sculptures”—allusions to home furnishings, but completely shorn of their function. These works question the everyday identity of the object and constitute a sort of counterpoint to that identity, pared down to its essence. The artist in this case works with appropriation and therefore with both recognizability and estrangement. He provides enough elements that viewers can associate what they are looking at with something familiar, but without the object ever completely overlapping with the real point of inspiration. Reflective surfaces are articulated in rectangles that exist in dialogue with benches in lacquered wood (Total, 2017); acrylics on canvas are placed in relationship to stools (Ailleurs [Elsewhere], 2017); velvet surfaces enter into conversation with marble and iron tables (Vacances [Vacations], 2017). Presented in pairs, as if doubled and varied, and placed side by side, these works put the individual work’s “aura” at a remove and call into question the relationship between painting and everyday space.

The gallery walls, on which the artist has placed works of both an abstract and a figural nature, become part of the show, making it a total installation. The walls carry on a discourse with the object-works and are in part reflected in a large mirror-surfaced piece on the floor in the center of the room, Double Cap, 2017, which, with its fragmentary and irregularly articulated presence, intensifies the perceptual play and general sensory experience. Beyond formal or stylistic concerns, Armleder works to cancel the distinctions between surface and support, between sculpture and design, between installation and behavior, between elitist art and popular culture. He incorporates different levels of visual culture, as if he were freezing them in a “zero degree” zone, going back to the basics of sign and expression. This apparent neutrality does not translate into aseptic results, however, but instead strengthens the individual works’ dialogical relationship with their surroundings. The exhibition is not principally a sequence of objects, but rather a totality of relationships.

The vitality of Armleder’s language can be discovered in his work’s experimental richness and constant metamorphosis, beyond labels and conventions. His creative skepticism, which paradoxically seems to negate the importance of the art object precisely as its vitality and expressive power is reaffirmed, remains very much of the moment, both anticipating and countering the uncontrolled flow of information and image characteristic of postdigital culture.

Francesca Pola

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.