Los Angeles

Henry Flynt, Tritone Monochord, 1987, dulcimer tuning pin, brackets, screws, violin bridge, guitar string, permanent marker, wood, 48 x 40 1/2".

Henry Flynt, Tritone Monochord, 1987, dulcimer tuning pin, brackets, screws, violin bridge, guitar string, permanent marker, wood, 48 x 40 1/2".

Henry Flynt

Henry Flynt, Tritone Monochord, 1987, dulcimer tuning pin, brackets, screws, violin bridge, guitar string, permanent marker, wood, 48 x 40 1/2".

A philosopher, musician, and artist, Henry Flynt has been making interdisciplinary work since dropping out of college and moving to New York in 1960. Once there, he befriended and collaborated with other protean figures such as La Monte Young, George Maciunas, and Walter De Maria. Well-versed in mathematics, analytic philosophy, and music theory, Flynt drew from those fields to create the genre of “concept art” in 1961. Unlike text-based works of Conceptual art, Flynt’s concept art was intended to be an “object critique of logic or mathematics or objective structure.” On the one hand, Flynt’s works can be seen as reflections of the heady, post-Cagean cultural scene of the ’60s, in which disciplinary boundaries were routinely transgressed. On the other, Flynt has long marched to the beat of his own drum. By 1963, he had taken a vigorous antiart stance, publicly protesting as well as lecturing about ending “serious culture” and replacing it with “veramusement” (from veritas and amusement), or unalienated activities of one’s “just-likings.” After a stint in sectarian leftist politics and a cessation of artmaking (though he continued to perform music), since the mid-’80s Flynt has resumed a practice of producing object-based art.

Flynt’s latest exhibition, “Thinky Art & Fantasy: 1987–2017,” curated by Kye Potter at the Box, presented an overview of about thirty works in various media, including sculpture, painting, and installation. The most engaging pieces in the show offered a sense of play in the form of visual puzzles, optical illusions, and semantic quandaries. Hanging on a wall near the gallery’s entrance was Tritone Monochord, 1987, a four-foot-high wooden board on which a specially tuned guitar string is suspended. When the string is plucked, one hears a tritone (a dissonant interval based on the ratio of one to the square root of two), which resonates with what one sees (the ratio of the square’s side to the length of its diagonal). The Necker cube, an isometric drawing of a cube that the eye perceives as flipping back and forth between two different perspectives, appeared in grid-like fashion over the white interior walls and ceiling of the square-room installation Logically Impossible Space, 1990, and painted on the two mirrored panels facing each other that comprised Stroke Numeral II, 1989. In the latter, when the viewer placed his or her head at a certain angle between the mirrors, the work produced a mise-en-abyme effect. These installations were similarly perceptually confounding: In Logically Impossible Space, the repeating shapes disoriented one’s sense of place within the real cubic space of the room, while the endlessly echoing Necker cubes in Stroke Numeral II created a sense of vertigo. In Esthetics of Eeriness, 1992, a suite of six off-key phrases painted on MDF plaques oscillated between absurdly making some sense and making no sense (e.g., PEOPLE TURN WHAT IS ROBUSTLY MURDEROUS OR STAINFUL ABOUT IT INTO WHAT IS ROBUSTLY MURDEROUS OR STAINFUL ABOUT THEM).

Less captivating were works that didn’t seem to be much more than the sum of their parts. For example, there was little intrinsically interesting about Aleatoric Painting #3, 2012, and Aleatoric Painting #4, 2017, two abstract oil canvases that were made through a combination of predetermined scores and chance operations. Nearby, The Seminar, 1988, didactically presented photographs of Flynt and his niece reading, conversing, and posing for the camera; these photos were hung above a vitrine containing excerpts from expository texts on depth psychology by Flynt alongside examples of the mainstream materials he was critiquing.

Upon leaving the gallery, the viewer was proffered one last intellectual provocation. An enigmatic wall text printed on a plaque prompted the viewer to COUNT THE WORKS IN THE SHOW WITHOUT REFERRING TO A LIST, and afterward to ASK AT THE FRONT DESK FOR THE EXPLANATION PAGE. The “explanation”—for a work titled Counting, 2011, as the page revealed—points out that mentally counting relies on memory, so by the time one counts to “two,” “one” is already gone. This leads to a paradox, that “one already has to believe in the impossible to understand counting.” This is what makes Flynt most memorable: his ability to produce an exercise in logic that leads to a productive contradiction framed within an aesthetic experience.

Kavior Moon