Cheyney Thompson at Andrew Kreps
Art in America, Jan, 2005 by Faye Hirsch
Cheyney Thompson's installation "1998" consisted of many small paintings of realistically depicted building materials in a state of construction or demolition: nailed-together two-by-fours and particle boards, partial brick walls and fragments of corrugated steel. Over the course of the exhibition, the artist added paintings, until there were more than 100 of them hung from floor to ceiling on three walls of the gallery.
When the show opened, and during the early part of its run, sandbags were stacked against the empty back wall; over time, Thompson constructed a bunker of the bags in the center of the room. Yet the presence of the sandbags from the start suggested that the building parts might be read as the detritus of an explosion--an interpretation bolstered by the presence, among the paintings, of an X'd-out portrait of a soldier. Another X over the bust of Plato in the exhibition's flyer, however, hinted at a metaphysical dimension.
Thompson's work is an adroit meditation on the outer limits of trompe I'oeil. The longer we stare at each component, uniformly set against a blank ground of unprimed linen, the more abstract it becomes--a fact that resists the logic of its representation, fastidious in the description of textures like woodgraining and rust. Within each painting, elements are disposed in a logical spatial recession, and each of the walls contained a vanishing point toward which all the images on that wall were oriented. Yet the optimal vantage within the room, its center, was eventually taken up by the bunker. Painted shadows within the works seem to be cast from many directions, implying varying and inconsistent light sources.
Such visual conundrums allusively enrich the work, as the quirky perceptual tricks recall Richard Artschwager, while the confounding of systematic viewing brings up Sol LeWitt. Thompson himself has cited Gericault's Raft of the Medusa as an inspiration, raising the possibility that we might be contemplating the metaphorical dismantling of history painting--the planks of the raft, as it were.
Alas, there was the press release, in which Thompson supplied a rather disappointing explanation for the title of the exhibition: 1998 was the year he co-founded the artist-run Oni Gallery in Boston, to stand, as he has written, as "a temporary autonomous site ... in opposition to the logic of markets." Reading the exhibition as a tired art-world battle detracts from its engaging perceptual open-endedness. It also deflates speculation on the work's possible allusions to darker events in the world at large.
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