View of “Cerith Wyn Evans,” 2022–23. Photo: Rob Battersby.

View of “Cerith Wyn Evans,” 2022–23. Photo: Rob Battersby.

Cerith Wyn Evans

None of the sculptures in “….)(” make contact with the floor; the entire exhibition seems to levitate. Throughout this sly presentation of recent work by Cerith Wyn Evans—the artist’s first significant institutional show in his home country of Wales—our gaze is directed upward, his signature in hanging neon forming an unlikely kinship with Mostyn’s airy chambers. Easy on the eye and knowingly impenetrable, the show provokes awe and disorientation in equal measure.

A primary claim of much contemporary sculpture is to untangle—to dissect, to lay bare. Evans embraces the tangle itself. Across a formally diverse and innately collaborative oeuvre, he knots together disparate media and art-historical lineages, not under any pretense of revealing or elucidating any problem, but in service of always further complexifying the relationship between a work’s materials, the environment in which it sits (or flies or floats), and its onlooker’s perception of both. The hanging sculptures of white neon with which he’s become most associated literalize this metaphor of the tangle, their intricate clusters of LED curves and bends evoking both the system failure of electric sparks and the immensity of a solar system. The synthetic allure of Mostyn Drift, 2021, a version of a work originally created for the Aspen Art Museum in Colorado, fills the exhibition’s largest room. Seen up close, these bright scribbles of light on thin air deliver a sensorial impact that is as much aural as visual; the hum of the LED lights hypnotize. Hundreds of translucent wires hold everything together, forming clean straight lines that dangle from the skylighted ceiling, offering a rare moment of just-so clarity in an exhibition otherwise defined by a sense of constant mobility.

Inviting consideration of the flows of energy between and across works, the show is filled with dynamic interplays of reflections in glass and harmonies and disharmonies in sound. The symmetrically hanging glass panes of Pli S=E=L=O=N Pli, 2020, physically reflect both Mostyn Drift and the visually and conceptually similar Neon Forms (after Noh I), 2015, demanding an altered understanding of each work’s shape and meaning with every step taken. Unafraid to leave you hanging, each sculpture narrates its own indecisiveness as to its status as a still or finite art object—or provides evidence of its own demolition, in the case of “phase shifts (after David Tudor)”, 2020, a set of brutally smashed windshields. Among these monuments to compromise and destruction floats StarStarStar/Steer (Transphoton) V, 2019, a group of three LED columns that light up and dim independently of each other at barely noticeable intervals, as if they are alive and know something about their presence in the space that we humans do not.

Though Evans is a Welsh speaker, from the southwest Wales market town of Llanelli, he’s no household name in his mamwlad. He has long lived in a Norfolk farmhouse, whose garden is the setting for a home video featured in an upstairs addendum to the exhibition. Mostyn’s framing of the show as a kind of homecoming is thus both belated and somewhat clumsy. Not only does the labyrinthine opacity of Evans’s sculptures belie any literal or biographical readings, but he’s an artist identified so closely with London—whether through his proximity to that city’s queer art and nightlife culture of the 1980s, the YBAs, or the White Cube brand—that the attempt at patriotic reclamation strikes an unconvincing note. This flimsy curatorial scaffolding nonetheless allows for an experience guided by purely sensory spectacle, apropos of an exhibition that has something like the collapse of all meaning on its mind.