New York

Simon Evans™, The World Again, 2017, mixed media, 29 × 41".

Simon Evans™, The World Again, 2017, mixed media, 29 × 41".

Simon Evans™

James Cohan | Lower East Side

IMHO, a lot of text-based art is lame. It’s a field thick with glib one-liners and cynical quips, stilted poetry and borrowed—or, worse, homespun and failed—profundities. Neither edifying nor invigorating, such efforts elicit, at best, dumb chuckles and dulcifying consensus. Not so, Simon EvansTM (the faux-corporate moniker of the collaborative couple Simon Evans and Sarah Lannan). Sure, their work contains some of the above, but in such abundance, and organized with such wit and complexity—roping in all manner of quotidian and illustrative material—that, with rare exception, each piece constitutes a highly engaging galaxy of conceptual interaction. Gracing the entryway to James Cohan’s Chinatown space and hanging adjacent to a dividing wall bearing the show’s poetic title, “Passing through the gates of irresponsibility,” was the duo’s scene-setting Wallpaper, 2015, a roughly three-foot-wide unframed scroll running from ceiling to floor, raggedly torn at the top, with a short remainder coiled at the bottom. On close examination, what initially appeared as a loose mesh of horizontal striations resolved as an ultra-laborious, handwrought repetition of the slogan MAKE ART REAL, overwritten in places with somewhat random words and phrases. Bart Simpson’s daily blackboard corrective came to mind, and, indeed, there is an incisive Simpsonian delinquency at work across much of this collaborative’s oeuvre.

Possibly the most representative piece among the half dozen or so scrappily constructed palimpsests occupying the main space, all entombed in immaculate box frames, was Relic, 2019. A grubby, light-blue-gray rectangular mass floats at eye level toward the top of a torso-scaled, Post-it-Note-yellow ground comprising myriad shards of pasted-on paper inscribed with hand-penned or mechanically printed words, phrases, and symbols, in addition to the occasional doodle or drawing. The mute neutrality of the blank gray shape, suggestive of both semantic void and dormant screen, contrasts starkly with the cut-up word soup bubbling around it. The sheer volume and density of ideas here—some fully formed, if at times twisted, ironic, or nonsensical; others fragmentary—defies summation. A record of incremental conceptual accretion, a temporal map of the mind, this work obviously took time to make and takes time to parse. And speaking of mapping (a Simon EvansTM staple, along with listing and taxonomic arrangement), another standout, The World Again, 2017, took the ultimate macro view in attempting to represent the universe as an agglomeration of abstracted celestial bodies, mussily attached—almost as though masticated and pressed onto the surface, itself a tattered quilt of pastel-colored paper scraps—to a very homemade schoolhouse chart of planet Earth. A reprise of sorts of a 2003 work, The World, that presents a psychogeographic reimagining of archetypal urban space, this iteration’s vastly expanded purview would seem to get at the engulfment of material reality (perhaps the “real” to which Wallpaper refers) by the infinite horizon of cloud computing, a virtual geography this pair of rogue cartographers has tackled before.

Simon EvansTM toil in the realm of vernacular infographics, taking extreme license with the form and content of informational systems. They’re the anti-Edward R. Tufte, untamed and off-leash. Tufte’s Envisioning Information (1990), an exquisitely conceived and presented handbook of two-dimensional data display, preaches clarity, distillation, and elegance as aids to efficient communication. Evans and Lannan gleefully corrupt each of these virtues, trampling the strictures of cognitive conveyance with messy, parodic incursions into the socially constructed order of things. Wag conceptualists, they launch oddball critiques of everyday occurrences and phenomena via relentless probation and a studied insouciance. Yet it has to be said that many of the pieces in this show were really not much to look at. With their generally muted color scheme and obfuscating, scumbly execution, the works offered little aesthetic consolation or encouragement to spur one on, putting additional pressure on their espoused ideas to deliver, which, for the most part, they did. There were certainly moments of sensual appeal—most notably in All that potential energy, 2019, a shamelessly luscious five-by-four-foot slab of crinkled, collaged, and sparsely embossed cardboard, caked in gold leaf—but the show’s overall aesthetic was one of ambling, imprecise functionality. Whereas Tufte may be the supreme informational formalist, Simon EvansTM are consummate informational informalists.