A Promise is a Cloud
Public Art Fund, New York
Through October 7
by Sarah Demeuse
The arrival of Spring has brought on a desire to stroll and, I confess, to discover the world outside.... So I ended up at Brooklyn's MetroTech Center, one of the three sites in New York where the the Public Art Fund (PAF) commissions the production of public artworks. MetroTech, a place I'd never visited before, has a this-could-be-anywhere-in-the-US feel to it even though it's located only minutes away from the Brooklyn Bridge and other postcard-worthy views. The basics: corporate architecture, the upper levels of which are solely dedicated to administrative 9-5 labor whereas the ground floor is home to 10-4 lunch places offering take-away meals, a gift shop and/or pharmacy that line the all-pedestrian atrium. There are benches to take the mind off of work or to have that lunch al fresco, and paths diagonally cross the court-cum-trees area. A no-pet policy, the stiffly straight trees and, quite possibly, a no-smoking policy make sure the generic nature of this space is matched with an equal insistence on hygiene. Moreover, this pocket of work-as-uniform-routine lies hidden behind the cordoned-off streets of the nearby courts.
This is the setting for or, rather, this is PAF's 'open air gallery' in which they present year-long group shows. It's between the walkways, the routine and administrative reality that an exhibit is meant to congeal. If in a hermetic museum gallery, a group narrative is rarely achieved successfully, exhibitions at MetroTech can at most aspire to momentary derailing, to tweaking the everyday instead of a temporary albeit full-blown immersion into curatorial frameworks. And this is precisely because in this gallery, viewers return on a daily basis. They're bound to develop a relation, even if it's a passive or frustrated one, with the art objects that surround them.
A Promise is a Cloud, this year's exhibit, opened last Fall, brings together work by three New York-based artists, Ohad Meromi, Adam Pendleton and Erin Shirreff, as well as by the Seoul-based duo YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES. For some of them, this was their first public project. A risk worth taking, especially in the case of Meromi, who had yet to go public in the US and who, at MetroTech, has produced work (Stepanova) that continues his interest in task-based participation and rehearsal. And similarly for Pendleton, whose work which is a continuation of his Black Dada project, parses symbolic meaning and closed signifiers associated with black identity. His 16 over-sized vinyl flags equally distributed throughout the center's promenade, intervene on the symbolic level. While Pendleton's distinct flags, mixing grey, white and black planes feel as if they were designed for a windless day that forces them to fold, Meromi's sculptural piece resembles the skeleton of those conic tubular forms used for chutes in construction sites and offer variations in scale. In a place where routine is the name of the game, structures like these that verge on identical repetition provoke an unexpected jolt to the eyes of the passersby.
Completely opposite this logic is YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES' Flash animation, The Struggle Continues, bringing jazzy rhythms and black on white text echoing the intertitles of a love-themed silent movie, and Erin Shirreff's Sculpture for Snow. The flatscreen animation entertainingly injects the slur of routine with hopes of love, sex and utopian politics and depends on that contemporary A.D.D. mode of partial though intense perception. Shirreff's sculpture, borne from a three-step process (starting with a maquette of a photographic reproduction of a Tony Smith sculpture, using it as prop for a digital animation, to then bring it back to public space in the shape of a full-size 3-dimensional object) stands solitary in the atrium's rare patch of grass. In order to get an understanding of the optical illusion (volume turns out to be flatness) that underpins it, this sculpture begs to be appreciated in a concentrated manner and from all sides. Everything around the lawn (trees, benches, curb and a "do not touch" sign) unfortunately prevents such engagement.
A Promise is a Cloud proposes a potential for developing (and especially for a type of change related to environmental change) as a common denominator between the works. It's an appealing proposal, especially when it comes to public sculpture, a genre overshadowed by either spectacle or static gravity. And it's even more worthwhile in this anywhere space that seems to want to halt flux. Yet, in this exhibition, it is certainly not the kind of linear change that requires time and continued attention. Perhaps development in this case can be better understood as jolts—irregular shifts brought about by fragmented attention and the agency of the works themselves. It could, in fact, be a basic premise to continue considering at MetroTech—it could risk taking the 'show' out of the group show, but that may just be a positive thing.
Sarah Demeuse reads, translates, edits, writes and makes exhibitions. Together with Manuela Moscoso, she founded rivet, a curatorial office that currently focuses on object-oriented approaches in philosophy and contemporary art.