Scott Nedrelow: Viewfinder
Review by Forest Lewis
David Petersen Gallery
Feb 27–Apr 2, 2016
The pieces in Scott Nedrelow’s new show Viewfinder at David Petersen Gallery are like the slag formed from heavy thinking. I attended his subsequent talk at the U of M and what became evident is that the concept is more appealing than its execution. Like some of his minimalist forebears, this is work that improves when the artist speaks about it. The usual critique of Minimalism being that the simpler the work is the more explanation it requires. One wonders when looking at some of the Minimalists, if the “work of art” extends so far into its theoretical justification that what we’ve been referring to all along as “Minimal Art” was actually just performance art put on by skilled rhetoricians. Not that I’m complaining. But sometimes I’d like to look at early Frank Stella without the gravitational pull of his cranky theories.
Heaven protect the eager art-viewer who refuses to read. But at least Stella is fun to look at.
Nedrelow’s new work at the David Peterson Gallery is not so aesthetically enjoyable. Mostly video pieces—there are at least six TVs—the work often seems preoccupied with cute composition. If you stand at the right angle the composition “works,” if you’re at the wrong angle it’s just free-standing TVs displaying monochromatic colors. The prefabricated commercial form of the flat screen televisions allude to Dan Flavin’s serialized fluorescent lights but without possessing any of their weightlessness. These are weighty, clunky objects, their naked black backs visible as you circle around them. The “back of the TV” is a provocative idea on its own, but it could be integrated into the framework here in a more cohesive manner. As it stands, the PALM JAMES MAURELLE AT THE BINDERY PROJECTS ON VIEW MARCH 26 – MAY 1, 2016 BY SHEILA DICKINSON It’s so refreshing to walk into a gallery and see the space filled with pure abstraction, yet still be able to feel one’s way through the exhibition. I do not mean to feel literally with my hands, but the concept of Palm clearly ask the viewer to think about touching and feeling. James Maurelle returns to work with his hands as he did as a child apprentice to his grandfather plumber and father architect in this most recent work. The one large gallery at The Bindery Projects is filled with raw wood, rarely carved, more assembled in sculptural wall hangings and few standalone pieces. A brief, recent video work, I AM – I AM, asks, who are you?, from an adjacent room. I was immediately drawn to a triptych hanging on a far wall, perhaps because of the recognizable forms, old wooden letter press boxes hung vertically in a row, old shallow rectangular boxes filled with small compartments to hold letters. In IS one, two, three, Maurelle fills the small slots with bits of odd sized wood pieces. A small stack of leftover wood blocks rest on top of one the boxes, giving the sense that they are interchangeable, that they don’t need to remain stuck in one place. The desire to pick up a spare piece and see if it fits better into one of the compartments than another overwhelms me, wanting to get lost in the endless shuffling around of pieces. I think of a child in a woodworking shop picking up the stray wood ends and making a game, remembering Maurelle’s family lineage of plumbers and architects. These odd sized discarded wood remnants appear in most of his art in the gallery, creating an aesthetic texture. The textural qualities are heightened by the fact that each piece can fit into the palm of the hand. The pause lingers in the work, knowing that each piece is held while the artist considers, where will this one fit? Thoughtfulness and care lend gravitas to the artwork that at first glance looks arbitrary and haphazard. A compelling combination. Wedged between the letter press compartments “bodies” of the TVs do not seem fully realized. This is not the case with Nedrelow’s piece Viewfinder Sculpture (2016), recently on view at the Kansas Gallery in Tribeca. This piece consists of a TV leaning against a stepladder while showing a video recording of that stepladder. This piece plays with all of the same ideas on display at the David Petersen Gallery but it does so with a great amount of visual humor, while critiquing the primacy of the readymade.
While the readymade is briefly considered in Nedrelow’s new show, it is done so in a less comprehensive and convincing manner. All of the pieces contain the famous Savage brand seamless backdrop paper, in such colors as 13 Banana and 09 Stone Gray. This backdrop is found both in the video and in the gallery. The implications of which is a reflexive selfimportance: the art itself is backdrop for the art itself. TVs or not, there isn’t much room left for the viewer. In the video pieces this circularity is interleaved with the studio’s day-light, as its reflection moves across the surface of the backdrop. This light, though placed on a “pedestal”, is barely important visually, for the video in IS one, two, three are several flat wood panels with raised wooden dots spaced in a braille-like form. My hand craves to touch, to know without looking, to think through feeling. Because blindness knows no difference, at least blindness offers a completely other criteria for judging people. Joanna Zylinska writes, “The ethics of blindness does not denigrate sight as opposed to the other senses, but rather creatively explores the crevices and gaps resulting from the imperfection of representation.”1 Maurelle’s dependence on abstraction speaks to the “imperfection of representation” that blindness brings to mind. No wonder that Ouidanaja, a large rectangular free standing wood sculpture, invites and allows the viewer to touch. Hesitant at first, viewers seem to gravitate and linger around this piece, sliding the abacus like beads along the spindle, turning square blocks and opening an odd little empty drawer. Who are you? keeps calling from the I AM – I AM soundtrack in the nearby video room. Upbeat and happy found clips from 1970’s kids programming of two boys, one black, one Latino, saying their names anchor the video. Keeping with the theme of Palm, Leon plays bongo drums after he says his name and Luiz does a hand waving dance in his bell bottoms. In the space between these boys the film interchanges pictures of racially diverse children at a dizzyingly fast speed. As I left the video screening room, suddenly the two spherical wood sculptures on top of pedestals morphed into portraits. Entirely abstract with no facial representation, the heads carry a fragmented sense of quickly reveals itself as one that you do not need to watch; the light is so subtle as to register as a mere quirk of documentation that need never have happened. Bruce Nauman also shot long boring videos in his studio, but at least he had a mouse problem.
Nedrelow’s earlier works are far more dynamic than the current selection. His 2006 Moth Drawings used the erratic flights of moths fluttering around an overhead light to create patterns in charcoal dust across the surface of paper. The energy of the moth’s frantic obsession with the lamp is transmitted visually and emotionally. This is work that expertly tackles such notions as abstraction, the artist’s hand, and even photography (as in the use of light to create an image) all while being visually captivating. In the current show, Nedrelow’s own interest with light lacks that previous concentration of elements.
Much of this new work is very similar in look and feel to Liz Deschenes’ recent show, Gallery 7, at the Walker Art Center. Both share an interest in applying Minimalism to non-representational photography. In Gallery 7, Deschenes’ employed some of the phenomenological voodoo of high Minimalism to great effect, creating work that effortlessly places the viewer face to face with monochromatic blues and silvers that seem sent from another world. It created an aesthetic experience and environment transcendent of any theoretical explanation. Indeed, listening to Deschenes describe the piece later on seemed trite and beside the point. These were the lofty goals of the Minimalists: to create work that had no referent so that even the artist disappears, to create work that did not need to be explained. Only a few of them ever pulled off such a magic trick (Flavin, Judd).
On the contrary, hearing Nedrelow speak about his work gave it all of the credence and conceptual flight that the pieces themselves lack; he seems more invested in the experiment than the result.